The 2014 New School Year

School begins here in Victoria on Tuesday. It is the first time in ten years that I have not spent the summer busily preparing for the new school year. That has been a strange feeling.

Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My daughter, Novalie, is 5.5 months old and I am absolutely loving motherhood. While I won’t be in the classroom this year, apart from some possible replacement teaching, I’m thankful that there are still ways to keep up with education.

There was a time, not so long ago, when maternity leave would mean you’re out of the ‘education loop’. Now, with blogs, Twitter and other online resources, the education community is at your finger tips.

While I am not producing as much in the community, I am enjoying being a consumer.

I recently wrote some tips for graduate teachers on the excellent ABC Splash site which may be of interest to educators beginning their careers next week. I enjoyed having the chance to reflect back on my own learning journey.

Long term readers would be familiar with Kelly Jordan who was my team teaching partner for a number of years. Kelly has moved to a new school in 2014 and is soon to launch her new class blog. I’m certain this will be an excellent example of how blogging can operate in the primary classroom.

If you are interested in getting started with blogging in 2014, the following posts may be useful for you:

I’d love to hear from readers. What does 2014 hold for you?

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This will be my last week teaching before I begin maternity leave. I’m definitely looking forward to my new adventure as a mum but know there will be a lot I will miss about being in the classroom.

In packing up my classroom to make way for the new teacher, it has been interesting to think about what is worth storing for my future teaching career, and what is obsolete.

I have been at the same school for almost a decade. The world has certainly changed, education has changed and I have changed as a teacher.

At this stage, I don’t know whether I’ll be back teaching in a short while or a long while. What teaching resources will be important or useful in the future? I do not know. What I do know is that many items I previously valued now have no use in the classroom.

I’m not a hoarder. I find it liberating to get rid of things I no longer need and I subscribe to the notion that a cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind.

I’m trying to be ruthless in condensing 9.5 years of resources into two or three plastic storage tubs.

One of the main things I’m disposing of is worksheets.

There was a time when I relished the challenge of making a “good” worksheet. I used to take pride in my folders, carefully organised into curriculum areas and topics.

It seems so obvious now but it took me years to realise that worksheets don’t feature heavily in an effective, modern classroom.

While there is always a place for recording of information etc. on paper, the “busy work” that I used to love to set now makes me cringe!

It is clear to me that hands-on, authentic, collaborative, open-ended tasks have a much bigger impact on students than a prescribed worksheet.

I wonder if this viewpoint will be more widespread when I return to the classroom. At the moment I still see photocopiers in high demand by many teachers.

Similarly, I have been asked countless times for “sheets” when a student is absent or going on holidays. Many parents seem to value worksheets as the key to education and see classroom education as easily replaced by paper work.

Other reflections on what is important now and in the future:

  • Ideas and resources are always available:  I can use Twitter, blogs and other online tools to brainstorm or source the ideas and resources I need in the future. I know my international professional learning network (PLN) will always be there. I don’t need to keep an artefact of an idea I had five years ago “just in case”.
  • Digital resources don’t take up space: A lot of what I’ve created for my classroom is housed on my computer or in the cloud.  My work programs used to take up a lot of shelf space. Now I work on them collaboratively with my team via Google Docs. This is just one example of saving physical space and working more effectively.
  • I don’t need to provide it all: The modern classroom is a lot less teacher-led than it was when I began teaching. I don’t need to create all the work, resources or projects. This is something students can do authentically and collaboratively.
  • Prioritising is powerful: I’ve always enjoyed creating a bright and attractive learning environment in my classroom. However, I have come to realise that spending hours on beautiful bulletin board displays isn’t a good use of my time. I’ve had to simplify things over the years to devote more time to avenues that can offer my students amazing outcomes, such as blogging and global projects. I no longer have as many “decorative items” to store and students can play a bigger role in working on their physical learning environment.

I’m excited about what lays ahead both personally and professionally. As for the future of my blog, I’m not signing off completely just yet. While I’m slowing down, I’m going to see what challenges my new life presents before determining whether I still have the inspiration and time to write about education.

But what of now? Tech no logic CC BY-NC-SA http://www.flickr.com/photos/50614315@N05/4970644551

What has become obsolete from your teaching career?

What resources do you think will be most valuable for teachers in the future?

 

A New Blog Design for a New Year

As 2012 comes to an end it is timely to reflect on what a fabulous year it has been.

I’m also launching a new theme to mark the start of a new year. Integrating Technology in the Primary Classroom is now called Primary Tech. The URL has not changed.

Some of my 2012 highlights include:

  • Blogging – educational blogging has continued to be a large part of my classroom in 2012. It has been encouraging to see my grade four students improve in so many ways through blogging and global collaboration. 99 posts were published on the 4KM and 4KJ blog during 2012. Over 4000 comments were received and we recorded 33,000 visits on our Clustrmap during the year. A blogging highlight was coming third for the Best Class Blog category in the worldwide Edublog Awards in December.
  • Having a wonderful PLN – my professional learning network is wide and diverse. Each person in my PLN helps me to become a better teacher. Every day I am reflecting, brainstorming, questioning and chatting with a really inspirational bunch of educators via Twitter, email, Skype or blogs. I couldn’t teach without you!

In 2013 I am looking forward to:

  • Going 1:1 – we are introducing a Grade Four Netbook Program into our school in 2013. Eventually, this will be a program for grades four to six. I’m excited by the possibilities of going 1:1 and look forward to again working with a dynamic team of teachers. If you have any suggestions to make about 1:1 curriculum, I would appreciate you commenting on this post.
  • Technify Your Teaching in 2013 PD – I have been writing Tech Tools for Teachers for three years. Each fortnight Simon Collier, Matt Limb and I produce a how-to guide for an online tool. For the third time, we are running a full day of hands-on professional learning at my school in Geelong. There are just a small number of spots still available. If you are interested in attending you can find out more here.
  • Exploring new technologies and pedagogies – with the introduction of the 1:1 program, I’m looking forward to using the technologies that are already common place in my classroom even more, while exploring new technologies with my students. I’m always getting new ideas from my PLN and love trying new things!

My blog and I are taking a break and I look forward to posting again after the new school year begins in late January.

Thank you for all your support this year!

What were your highlights of 2012?

What are you looking forward to in 2013?

Going 1:1 – Any Advice?

While the school year is quickly coming to an end, I’m looking forward to teaching grade four again in 2013. Next year my school is introducing a 1:1 netbook program for grade four students.

Early this term we held a parent information night and we are now delighted to have around 90% of families signed up for the 1:1 program.

Parents are purchasing an Acer Travelmate B113 which the students will use throughout grades four, five and six. 

Some people have asked why we’re not doing iPads/Macs/BYOD/BYOB/a different computer. A range of factors and research was considered when our school decided on the Acer Travelmate but this is not what this post is about.

We are now planning our 2013 curriculum and while we already have many ideas, I’m calling on my PLN for some different viewpoints.

Do you have any curriculum documents, links, advice or resources about successful 1:1 programs? I’d love you to comment!

We already have all the logistics of the program finely tuned but I’d love to hear any pedagogical ideas or advice.

Please comment!

On another note, thank you to all my readers who voted for this blog and my class blog in the recent Edublog Awards. We were thrilled with the outcome!

10 Internet Safety Tips for Students

Last night I attended a presentation by former police officer and cyber safety expert, Susan McLean. She addressed many issues around internet safety, cyber bullying, sexting, problematic internet behaviour and digital reputation.

Attribution: non-commercial
www.flickr.com/photos/27340884@N07/2550793685

Internet safety is something I try to address frequently and authentically with my students. I have found education around this issue to be so important.

When students develop internet behaviours without guidance, problems are sure to occur. My hope is that teaching students some key messages from a young age will help them navigate their way safely through the internet as they grow older.

I have found blogging to be an excellent way to teach students about being responsible digital citizens and members of online communities. I have seen other tools such as Edmodo used to promote positive internet behaviours too.

Here are some key messages around internet safety that I believe all students should be aware of.

Most of these are tips I share with my students with some ideas from Susan McLean.

  1. Always ask an adult if you’re unsure of anything when you are online.
  2. Don’t sign up for sites that are 13+ if you are not old enough (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram etc).
  3. Remember YAPPY (the personal information you should not share online) – Your full name, address, phone number, passwords, your plans. 
  4. Don’t add people as online friends unless you know them in real life or have parent permission. Never arrange to meet an online friend without talking to a parent.
  5. Remember that you cannot believe everything you read on the internet and you can’t trust everything online friends tell you.
  6. Choose sensible names for usernames, email addresses etc. 
  7. Talk to your parents about what you’re doing online and let them know when you’re going on the internet.
  8. Know what cyber bullying is and tell someone if you think it’s happening to you. Cyber bullying is when someone picks on you, annoys, embarrasses, or threatens you over and over again using technology, such as the internet or a phone.
  9. Protect your digital footprint: don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want all your friends, family, teachers and future employers to see.
  10. Treat others online the way you’d like to be treated.

Find more great information about internet safety on the government website, Cybersmart.

Here is a great video with tips for students from CommonSenseMedia. I found it via Jenny Luca’s wonderful post on digital footprints.

What other internet safety tips would you add?

How do you teach internet safety in your classroom?

I plan to write about tips for teachers and parents in my next posts.

PowerPoint: Dead or Alive?

Since Microsoft PowerPoint was released in 1990, it has been a key tool in many classroom ICT programs and businesses.

There seems to be a reoccurring theme in social media that “PowerPoint is dead”. PowerPoint has been the butt of many jokes including this infographic by SlideRocket. Wikipedia outlines a history of the “death by PowerPoint” criticism, which was first coined by Angela R. Garber in 2001.

I don’t think it’s fair to say PowerPoint is dead. Certainly, poorly used PowerPoint should be dead!

My beliefs on this topic are:

  • There is nothing wrong with the tool; it’s how it’s often used.
  • PowerPoint is a great tool to support presentations and also has other uses such as digital storytelling.
  • In a presentation, focus should be on the speaker and their story/information rather than the slides.
  • Text should be limited and images should be used extensively.
  • Tell rather than write the details of your message.
  • Design should be simple, clear and consistent.
There are definitely many great alternatives to PowerPoint which I like to use myself, but it’s important to remember that these tools can also be used poorly.

I recently read a great post by Silvia Tolisana (aka Langwitches) which had a lovely focus on storytelling. I was inspired by a lot of her advice and decided I needed to teach my grade four students how to use PowerPoint well.

My students were researching  a natural disaster with a classmate/s. Their task was to:

  • Research the natural disaster.
  • Create a model or representation of their natural disaster.
  • Create a PowerPoint to inform the audience about the disaster.
  • Present the PowerPoint using speaking notes, and present their model.

A task earlier in the year where the students were using PowerPoint demonstrated to me that they had developed some habits which could be improved upon. The students were more interested in adding sounds, animations and a rainbow of colours, rather than collecting well researched information which they could present to an audience.

My team teaching partner, Kelly Jordan, and I wanted our students to:

  • Begin by dividing their topic into sub categories and work out the overview of their presentation.
  • Research by using books and credible internet sources.
  • Use resources that they understand, put the information in their own words and include a reference section in their PowerPoint.
  • Create a PowerPoint that focusses on using text that was no more than titles/key words.
  • Source, attribute and use Creative Commons images.
  • Create speaking notes to support their presentation.
  • Engage and teach the audience by presenting their model of the natural disaster.
 

The results were very pleasing. The students enjoyed giving each other feedback and it was clear that every student had come along way since their earlier attempt at presenting with PowerPoint.

Here is just one example (of course it was the presentation that went with the PowerPoint that was most impressive):

There was a focus on oral language, and students had learnt new skills in regards to planning, researching, referencing, attribution, Creative Commons images etc. Hopefully these are skills which the students will use again in the future.

The children loved having the choice of who to work with, what topic to explore and how to create their models. The models were extremely creative and varied. There was everything from a volcano piñata to a electronic earthquake, cyclone in a bottle, tsumani storybook, bushfire diorama, exploding volcano and more.

This project was definitely a learning experience for both the students and the teachers. In my eyes, PowerPoint is not dead and is something I will continue to use in my classroom along with an assortment of other tools.

Do you use PowerPoint? How do you use it?

What advice do you give students about working with PowerPoint?

Instructions for Using Creative Commons Images in Blog Posts

Many bloggers are not aware that you can’t just use any images off the internet in your blog posts. Not only is this ethically incorrect but you could leave yourself open to copyright infringement.

I teach my student bloggers to “do the right thing” by using their own images or Creative Commons images in their blog posts.

Wanting to make this process clear to my student bloggers, I created a document explaining copyright, copyright infringement and Creative Commons. The guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to use FlickrCC and Wikimedia Commons to upload and attribute images in blog posts. Obviously, there is more than one way to do this, however, I wanted to keep the instructions as straightforward as posssible for my students.

I have embedded this document below. Feel free to use it with your students to teach them about these important blogging habits.

Using Creative Commons Images From FlickrCC and Wikimedia Commons in Blog Posts

If you are having trouble viewing the document, you can download it here as a PDF. Using Creative Commons Images from FlickrCC and Wikimedia Commons in Blog Posts

More detailed advice on using Creative Commons images in blog posts can be found in the Teacher Challenge guide by Sue Waters.

How do you go about using Creative Commons images?

Do you have any more advice?

ISTE 2012 – What an Experience!

Six weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to win the Victorian Teachers Mutual Bank Outstanding Primary Teacher Award. This award has partially allowed me to attend the ISTE conference in San Diego, California and meet some of my international blogging buddies face to face.

Meeting Mrs Yollis!

When I arrived in the USA, my long term blogging buddy, Linda Yollis, was there to pick me up from the airport. It was truly amazing to meet one of my closest blogging buddies face to face.

2012 is the fourth year that our classes have been collaborating through blogging, Skype and global projects. This relationship has connected eight cohorts of students, and many amazing friendships and learning outcomes have been achieved.

Linda is a very experienced and enthusiastic teacher who has been a mentor to me in many ways. Over the last few years I have adopted so many of her ideas and received some great feedback and advice from my blogging buddy.

Our friendship developed through the internet, although when we met, Linda and I got along like old friends. We spent many late nights discussing education and sharing ideas.

It was wonderful to meet many of the parents and students that I had connected with through blogging. It was also a surreal experience to visit Linda’s school after seeing it so many times in photos, videos and over Skype.

ISTE 2012 

The annual ISTE conference is said to be the world’s biggest ‘ed tech’ convention, and it was certainly far bigger than anything I had ever experienced. This year was the 33rd conference. The host city, San Diego, came alive with enthusiastic teachers who were ready to learn, network and discover new ideas.

The theme of the event was ‘expanding horizons’. I can safely say my horizons were expanded. I attended so many great sessions and had countless enriching conversations with dynamic educators. I left ISTE with many new ideas and deeper friendships within the global education community.

Linda and I presented a session at ISTE called ‘Educational Blogging: Flattening Classroom Walls’. We really appreciated the feedback we got on our session from teachers in the audience. It was great to hear that they enjoyed our story and were encouraged to begin their own journeys with blogging and global collaboration.

It was fabulous to meet up with so many people face to face who I had got to know online over many years. Fantastic friendships can be developed through blogging and Twitter. Meeting those friends face to face is the icing on the cake.

Ronnie Burt, Julie Hembree, me and Linda Yollis

It’s going to take me quite some time to process everything I experienced. Overall, ISTE was a real whirlwind with sessions and events from early in the morning until late at night.

I recommend thinking about attending ISTE 2013 in San Anotonio, Texas!

Read more

As my USA journey continues, I look forward to continue learning and connecting. If you want to read more about my experiences at ISTE and visit with Linda Yollis, there are a few more posts you can check out.

4KM and 4KJ Blog – I wrote a post for my students on my class blog.

Mrs Yollis’ Classroom Blog – Linda wrote a post about my visit on her class blog.

The Edublogger – Linda and I wrote a guest post for the Edublogger blog about our presentation at ISTE.

Ten Tips for Teaching Students how to Research and Filter Information

I was recently involved in a conversation about how difficult it now is to filter what is on the internet and research effectively. In the past, students would primarily use books to research; being overloaded with possibly unreliable information wasn’t really an issue.

Teaching students research skills is becoming increasingly important. Some refer to the filtering and critical evaluation of information as ‘web literacy’.

Unfortunately, many teachers don’t feel confident with their own skills to be able to assist their students with this. Often this is due to the fact that teachers aren’t actively searching and using material from the internet themselves.

Some schools get around this issue by heavily blocking the sites children have access too. My philosophy is to educate rather than block, in most cases.

I’m no expert in this area but I have compiled a list of ten tips that I try to give my students to help them with internet research and filtering. I’d love you to add your tips in a comment!

  • Search: Start with some general key words. If your results aren’t what you want, alter the keywords to make a more specific search. I often encourage my students to put the word “kids” in to find child friendly websites and articles. The Google Search Education website provides detailed lesson plans on teaching search skills. This cheat sheet also summarises some of Google’s advanced search features.
  • Delve: Look beyond the first few results. Flick through a few pages if need be. Let students know that many websites use Search Engine Optimisation to improve the visibility of their pages in search results. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most useful or relevant sites.
  • Source: Look at the actual URL address to see where you’re going before you click on a search engine result. Use some intuition to decide whether it seems reliable. Is it from a well known site? An educational or government institution? Is it a forum or opinion site?
  • Validity: Ensure students understand that you cannot believe everything you read. Encourage them to make their own judgement by checking more than one source if they’re not sure.
  • Purpose: Be wary of websites that are cluttered with advertisements or might be trying to sell you something.
  • Background: When reading articles, try to look for the author’s name and when the article was written. Is it recent or outdated?
  • Teach: Integrate the teaching of these skills into everything you do. Model your searches explicitly and talk out loud as you look things up. Researching skills don’t need to be covered in stand alone lessons.
  • Justify: When you’re modelling your research, go to some weak websites and ask students to justify whether they think the site would be useful and reliable.
  • Path: Students might like to start their search with some sites they know or have used before rather than randomly googling.
  • Cite: Give students lots of practice of writing information in their own words, and show them how to use quotation marks and cite sources. Remind students about the seriousness of plagiarism and copyright infringement. These are terms even my grade two students used. It’s never to early to learn about web literacy.

Image: 'not quite clear on the concept' http://www.flickr.com/photos/73645804@N00/1431384410

There are some useful lesson plans on the Common Sense Media website if you’d like to try some more structured lessons in your class. There are also some great links on the Education World website.


What tips can you add?

How do you teach ‘web literacy’?

Do you use custom search engines designed for children?

A Team Effort!

On Friday night I was honoured and humbled to win the Victorian Teachers Mutual Bank Outstanding Primary Teacher Award. This was part of an amazing night at the Victorian Education Excellence Awards at the Palladium at Crown Casino, Melbourne.

The title is one thing but I am also extremely grateful to receive funding to attend ISTE in San Diego, meet with our “blogging buddies” and help other local schools get involved in blogging and global collaboration. I hope this award will ultimately have an impact on the education of many students.

There was no time for public thank yous on the night but this individual award would not be possible without a great team of people around me!

2012 is the third year I have team taught with Kelly Jordan. This experience has been like no other professional development and the success we have achieved in our classrooms is definitely a team effort. Kelly deserves to be recognised as a big part of this award and I couldn’t have done it without her!

This is the ninth year I have worked at Leopold Primary School. I’m grateful for the way the staff have supported me since I was an inexperienced graduate teacher, and allowed me the freedom to try new things. The liberty and trust to innovate is a real gift for teachers who can sometimes feel bound by regulations and uniformity.

The students I work with make every day bright, interesting and rewarding. Seeing blog posts by former students such as BBRhiannonand Jarrod appear within hours of the news of my award is so touching. Within 24 hours of Kelly posting the results on our class blog, there have been nearly 30 comments from students and parents (on a weekend!). I’ve been lucky to be a part of the lives of many amazing students and families.

My professional learning network is a huge part of my career and my life. Every day I am learning something from the educators I have met through Twitter, blogs and conferences. The messages I have received on Twitter and Facebook have been truly overwhelming.

It has been a real honour to particularly work with inspiring teachers such as Linda Yollis, Shawn Avery, Jonah Salsich, Judy McKenzie and Melody Watson on a number of global projects and everyday blogging activities. They too are a huge part of this accolade.

Finally, I am lucky to have such a supportive husband, family and friends who put up with me working my nights, weekends and holidays away! The line between teaching being my career and a hobby blurs even more every year…

 Thank you!