Primary Tech

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Evolving Parent Communcation

When I began teaching in 2004, my main forms of parent communication were:

  • the occasional class (paper) newsletter
  • chatting to parents at the classroom door
  • signs on the classroom window with reminders
  • reports and parent teacher interviews
  • communication books for some students
  • phone calls or notes home if issues arose

While some things have stayed the same, many things have changed. I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of parents who visit the classroom every day. Moving from the junior school to an older grade also means parents are around less.

Since I started teaching, advances in technology and online communication have changed the way people interact and access information. It has been important to keep up with this, not only with what I’m doing with my students, but with how I’m interacting with parents too.

I now don’t worry about putting signs on the classroom window. I doubt they’d be read. I don’t see as many parents on a regular basis to pass on messages. Paper newsletters were time consuming for me to make and often got lost or buried at the bottom of a child’s bag.

As always, an ongoing stream of two-way information is important. I have found the more parents are kept informed and involved in their child’s learning, the more successful and smooth the child’s education is.

Every fortnight I email parents a class newsletter.

I wrote about this in 2010 but the main points of my system are:

  • I collect parent email addresses via a Google Doc form. I invite families to complete this at the end of the previous school year. I also use this form to collect more information about the child’s strengths, weaknesses, interests etc.
  • There are always a couple of parents without email addresses (I’m finding this is becoming less frequent). I print paper copies for these families.
  • I put email addresses in the BCC field of my emails to preserve parents’ privacy.
  • Kelly Jordan and I have surveyed our parents a couple of times and found they really enjoy this method of communication.
  • I invite parents to contact me via email if it is easier for them. Many embrace this option.

Our class blog provides information and a window into our classroom.

  • The 4KM and 4KJ blog is updated 2-4 times a week. Parents are encourage to subscribe and comment.
  • The blog houses a lot of information about what is happening in our classroom, including a regularly updated Google Calendar on the left sidebar. This calendar also helps the students to get organised.

I’ve found the class blog combined with parent emails means there is always a channel of information available for parents.

Of course some face-to-face contact always needs to be prioritised. For example, last week we held a successful Family Blogging Afternoon where students could teach a special person in their life about blogging and global collaboration. This is part of our Family Blogging Month celebrations.

As the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development points out “Family participation in learning is one of the most accurate predictors of a child’s success in school and beyond.” While this message has remained constant over the years, the way participation is taking is place continues to evolve.

I’d love to find new ways to continue to make parent communication easy and effective for all parties. What ideas do you have?

How do you communicate with parents?

How have your approaches to communicating with parents changed over the years?

Student Centred Blogging

Student centred learning is an theory that seems to have gained popularity in education communities over the years.

Wikipedia defines this type of learning as “putting students first … focused on the student’s needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles with the teacher as a facilitator of learning. Teacher-centred learning has the teacher at its centre in an active role and students in a passive, receptive role. Student-centred learning requires students to be active, responsible participants in their own learning.”

I would describe the blogging program that occurs in my classroom as largely student centred. Many students are very active on the 4KM and 4KJ blog both at home and school. Their enthusiasm for learning and connecting through the class blog is high.

I’ve had many teachers comment on the way that the students in my class respond to blogging. I’ve also seen many teachers set up class blogs assuming that the blog will motivate students to become active participants in their own learning. Some teachers believe that they can set up a blog and the students will drive it to success. This is not the case.

I believe the success I have with student centred blogging occurs because our program begins as teacher centred.

Kelly Jordan and I team teach. From Day One we are blogging cheerleaders. A day doesn’t go by when we’re not exploring blogs and celebrating the wonderful connections and learning that can occur through blogging. We present ourselves as role models in the blogging community; demonstrating quality commenting and safe internet use. We acknowledge and promote students as they too generate excitement for blogging by commenting and getting to know their blogging buddies.

When we were teaching Grade Two, Kelly and I exhausted ourselves by replying to all the comments on the class blog for the first few weeks of the school year. It didn’t take long, however, until we were no longer needed. Students began replying to comments without being asked and from then on, we could let them take charge of that aspect of our class blog.

I see my role as a teacher to get the wheel spinning. Slowly the students can jump on the wheel and, as they generate momentum, I can begin to decrease my central role. I’ll always be a cheerleader but I can steer the blog from more of a distance while making way for students.

Many of the successful blogs that I follow also adopt this approach. I’m yet to find a regularly maintained blog with a large community of followers and high quality posts and comments that doesn’t have an enthusiastic teacher behind it. That teacher may now be in the back seat somewhat, but they were certainly in the driver’s seat to get the blog going.

What do you think?

A Life Our Students Will Never Know

Over the holidays, while attempting to be less “connected”, I’ve been thinking about how much technology seems to be increasingly infused into our day-to-day lives. With laptops, smart phones, iPads, iPods and other portable devices becoming so common place, gadgets are no longer something we go to, they come with us.

This clearly brings about many pros and cons. Technology lets us connect and access information more easily, however, being hyperconnected can compromise our health and wellbeing. Like many things in life, striking a balance is key.

Sometimes it’s fun to think back and remember how you did things pre internet/mobile/computer. These are experiences our students will never know.

  • Meeting someone for lunch/a movie/a walk/any event outside the house and not being able to let them know if you’re running late, lost or if your plans have changed.
  • Researching a holiday destination by reading a book. Booking accommodation by reading and trusting a small advertisement in a travel guide. Possibly going by recommendations of a small number of friends or family rather than millions of anonymous world travellers. Putting holiday planning in the hands of a travel agent.
  • Keeping up to date with news or weather by purchasing an outdated newspaper or waiting for the television or radio to tell you.
  • Learning almost anything from a valued encyclopedia set. If it wasn’t in there or in a book from the library then sometimes you just didn’t learn it! Maybe you would change the topic of a school project in line with what information you had access to.
  • Keeping in touch with friends or family who lived far away by writing letters and waiting patiently for replies.
  • Taking photos and then waiting perhaps a week or more until you had them processed at a shop. If your photo didn’t turn out well, you wouldn’t know. It was always a blind gamble.
While these tasks seem inefficient now, I don’t remember questioning them. Perhaps we had more time on our hands or didn’t desire a faster paced way of living. Perhaps we didn’t consider what would be possible.

This article reminds us that “there are some major downsides to relying on the Internet as our ‘external brain,’ including the desire for instant gratification, and the increased chances of making ‘quick, shallow choices.’ But researchers also say we networked young people are nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do good in the world.”

If the pace of the world is fast, connected and dynamic, then surely the networked, nimble, multitaskers will be those who will succeed now and in the future? Or will they?

Will successful teachers need to be networked, nimble and multitasking too? How do we ensure that we have balance in our fast paced lives and how to do we help students with this?

Many children don’t seem overly interested in hearing about days-gone-by, just as we were sometimes bored by stories of our grandparents as children.

The interesting question will be what stories from the year 2012 will our students take with them when they remind their children and grandchildren about the “ways we used to do things”? What will seem primitive about the way we live our lives now?

What do you think?

How has technology changed your life?

Kids and Online Tools: The Legal Side

There are so many free online tools out there that are fabulous to use in the classroom. These tools can potentially allow your students to create, collaborate, communicate and express themselves in a multitude of ways.

To find recommendations of tried and tested online tools to use in the classroom with step-by-step instructions, visit my other website Tech Tools for Teachers. 

While the legal stuff can seem boring, it’s important to be aware that children cannot sign up for many online tools, even many of those that seem designed for education.

Websites based in the US are required to comply with Federal Trade Commission ( FTC ) Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  This act restricts the collecting information from children under the age of thirteen.

If you look in the terms and conditions of many tools, you will find that children under 13 are not allowed to create an account.

Some tools, such as PhotoPeach, state that “Persons under 13 years of age are required to have a parent or guardian review and complete the registration process.”

According to this article, there is currently a proposal in place to broaden the limitations in the COPPA act.

Australia has similar rules to COPPA and if you are working in a Victorian DEECD school, the same rules about signing up for 13+ websites apply. Find out more about DEECD’s social media policies here.

Ways I have gotten around these limitations with under 13s

  • Create a teacher account and work with the children.
  • Have students sign up at home with their parents when the tools allows this (eg. PhotoPeach).
  • Use tools that don’t require a sign up (eg. Tagxedo).
  • Use tools that allow teachers to create student accounts (eg. Storybird).

What this means for you

  • Be mindful that if an online tool requires users to sign up then there is probably a 13+ rule in place.
  • Check out the “terms and conditions” on the website to be sure. These can usually be found right down the bottom or up the top of a website.

I am certainly no expert on this topic. Please leave a comment if you have any further knowledge or advice.

What other tools have you used that don’t require sign up or allow the creation of student accounts?

Quality over Quantity

I’ve been thinking about how important quality over quantity often is when it comes to effective teaching and learning with blogging, global collaboration and technology.

Here are some thoughts…

It’s not about how many blogging buddies your class has but about having deep and ongoing connections with classes that you can learn with and from.

It’s not about how many Twitter followers you have but about forming connections with educators who inspire you, challenge you, share ideas and are interested in getting to know you.

It’s not about how many different web 2.0 tools you use but about using tools well that meet your students learning needs and your learning intentions.

It’s not about how many student blogs you have but about developing student bloggers who are responsible, supported by families and progressively creating high quality content.

It’s not about how many computers and devices you have in your classroom but about how well you’re using them to amplify your teaching and increase student learning.

It’s not about how many blog comments students write but about how they use comments to reflect, question, offer feedback, make a connection or develop a relationship.

It’s not about keeping up with the plethora of information flying around the internet but about finding the important, reliable and useful information that you need.

Some of these things I have definitely realised over time. Enthusiasm and quantity can sometimes go hand in hand and mask the need for high quality teaching and learning. I have sometimes found that when I take time to reflect I realise the power of quality.

Image: ‘There goes the neighborhood’
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27109792@N00/2475530616

Where else do you think quality over quantity is important in education?

Sometimes quantity has a place too. Can you think of any examples?

New Teacher Blog: Guiding Digital Nomads

I first met Aine Murphy (@ainetmurphy) when she was completing teaching rounds at my school in 2010. We bonded over a common interest in technologies, blogging and global collaboration.

Aine taught in Ireland for ten years before moving to Australia and retraining at Deakin University. She is now teaching Grade Three/Four at Point Lonsdale Primary School having previously taught Spanish.

Last year, Aine and I taught post-grad education students at Deakin University and together we injected some new ideas and tools into the curriculum.

Aine has recently started a new blog called Guiding Digital Nomads: The Wanderings of a Teacher in the 21st Century

http://digitalnomads.global2.vic.edu.au

I recommend subscribing to Aine’s blog as I’m sure her posts will be full of new ideas and excellent reflections.

Aine also recently started a new blog for her Grade Three and Four students and is looking for other blogging classes to collaborate with. Contact her via either blog or Twitter if you’re keen!

Why not head over to Guiding Digital Nomads now and introduce yourself?

School is out for 2011

2011 has been a fabulous year! In true “Kathleen Morris style”, I have taken on a lot and juggled many different pursuits, but it is all worthwhile to reflect on what has been achieved.

Some of my 2011 highlights include:

  • Blogging – it goes without saying that blogging was a big highlight of my year. We published 112 posts and 4660+ comments on our class blog, and received nearly 25,000 visitors. Out of my 22 students in 2KM, nine students earnt their own blog which is quite an achievement for seven and eight year olds. They all say they will continue next year. I hope so!
  • Writing for BayFM – As author, Mem Fox, says, “we’re currently wasting a lot of time by giving unreal writing tasks in our classrooms….You and I don’t engage in meaningless writing exercises in real life—we’re far too busy doing the real thing”. Writing for a real media outlet was an incomparable experience for my grade twos! Read more about it here.
  • Edublog Awards – even though my class received some good results in the 2011 Edublog Awards, this is irrelevant. Seeing the students excited about nominating and reflecting on their choices was fabulous. They felt like they were a real part of the blogging community by participating in these awards. At the award ceremony, class morale was high as we cheered for people we did and didn’t know.  That is what blogging is all about – reflection, collaboration, creating and celebration!
  • Sharing and Encouraging Other Teachers – I have enjoyed presenting at various events this year, both online and face-to-face. It’s terrific to see teachers become excited about new possibilities! Teaching a unit to post-grad education students at Deakin University was also a source of rich professional growth and enlightenment for me.
  • 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 2012 I am looking forward to:

  • Teaching Grade Four – I am teaming up with my teaching partner, Kelly Jordan, again and we hope to convert our two classrooms into one. I’m excited by the possibilities of working with older students!
  • ISTE - last week, L.A. teacher, Linda Yollis and I were accepted to present together on how our classes collaborate through blogging. ISTE is being held in San Diego in June. My class has been collaborating with Linda’s class for three years. We have become good friends and we have never met in person!
  • Technify Your Teaching in 2012 PD – I have been writing Tech Tools for Teachers for two years. Each fortnight Simon Collier, Matt Limb and I produce a how-to guide for an online tool. We decided to run a full day of hands-on professional learning to kickstart 2012. The response was overwhelming and we filled up all available spots in less than two weeks. I’m looking forward to the day and hope it will be the first of many Technify Your Teaching PDs.
  • Exploring New Technologies – blogging, global projects, iDevices, Skype and web 2.0 tools will continue to be a big part of my classroom. Next year I’m interested in trying Edmodo and I want to delve more into movie making. I’d love to get my students using Skype in ways other than whole class sessions. I’m always getting new ideas from my PLN and love trying new things!

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What were your highlights of 2011?

What are you looking forward to in 2012?

The Edublog Awards – Vote for us!

The Edublog Awards have been running since 2004 and showcase some of the most popular blogs in education around the world.

The purpose of the Edublog Awards is to promote and demonstrate the educational values of blogging. This is something I really believe in!

Edublogs

There were many cheers of delight in 2KM and 2KJ today when we found out that we were nominated for Edublog Awards.

Voting is now open for the 2011 awards and we need your support.

Voting closes on Wednesday 14th December and the Awards Ceremony will be held at 11am on Thursday 15th December (Melbourne time).

Voting is now open for the worldwide 2011 Edublog Awards. Mrs Morris, Miss Jordan, 2KM and 2KJ need your support to help Leopold shine!
Voting closes on Wednesday 14th December and the Awards Ceremony will be held at 11am on Thursday 15th December.
To vote, go to www.edublogawards.com and look for the drop down menu on the left hand side of the page

To vote, go to http://edublogawards.com/vote-here/

You will simply need to use the drop down menu to pick your category and your choice. Then press vote.

It is important to know that you can only vote once per day per category from any location/IP address.

    How you can vote for me and my students:

    Tip: If you click on the category, you will go straight to the voting page!

    Best individual blog

    Kathleen Morris – Integrating Technology

    Best individual tweeter

    Kathleen_Morris

    Best group blog

    Our World, Our Stories

    Best class blog

    2KM and 2KJ @ Leopold PS

    Best student blog

    Ava OR BB OR Haille OR Jarrod OR Jordi OR Millie

    Best ed tech blog

    Teaching Generation Now

    Most influential post

    Kathleen Morris

    Best teacher blog

    Kathleen Morris – Integrating Technology

    Lifetime Achievement

    Kathleen Morris

    I am flattered to be nominated in so many categories. Thank you!

    Have you been nominated in the Edublog Awards?

    Team Teaching

    This post isn’t about technology but it is about something I am asked about often – team teaching.

    This is the second year that Kelly Jordan and I have team taught and we find it to be hugely successful and rewarding. In this post I will explain how it works for us.

    Physical Environment

    We work in a large open classroom which is basically two classroom with folding doors that stay open. There are a small number of classrooms with this set up in our school.

    2KM 2KJ classroom

    We have a small withdrawal room which we use regularly for different groups and activities. We also have a number of special needs students who often require one-on-one support, so integration aides take advantage of this quiet space to work with these students.

    DSC05871

    Kelly and I are extremely lucky to have two interactive whiteboards (IWBs) – one in each classroom. We alternate which IWB we use for our introductions and usually have both in operation during small group work.

    IWB

    This year we were fortunate enough to acquire 20 netbooks and an iPad to add to our 10 desktop computers and four iPod Touches. It goes without saying, we use these tools constantly!

    KJ iPad

    Students

    For administrative purposes, we have two separate classes (2KM and 2KJ) however we work together for every session except for two hours of the week when one class is at a specialist (eg. Art, Music, P.E. etc).

    Like all classes, our students have a mixture of abilities, needs, interests and personalities.

    There are 22 students in each class who are all aged seven or eight years old.

    Planning

    Kelly and I plan everything collaboratively. This usually (officially) begins early in the week when we sit down and discuss what we think our students need to work on and draft out a plan for the following week. During this planning time, we write down many of the things we have been discussing informally as we have been observing and working with our students.

    From there, we often share out tasks and source different resources and activities separately. For example, I might look for some reading activities and Kelly might look for some maths resources. We then get together and discuss what we’ve found, tweak our ideas and finalise our planning.

    We have three hours per week of specialist classes which also provides time release for teachers. 2KM and 2KJ has one of their specialist classes at the same time which allows Kelly and me one hour planning time. The rest of our planning is done before school, online at night, at lunchtimes etc.

    The planning process never stops and we are continually teaching, assessing, reflecting, planning. It is an ongoing and efficient cycle.

    Our Day

    We begin each day by marking the roll separately with our classes. We then join together for blogging, then literacy and then the rest of our program. The first ten minutes of the day is the only time we work separately.

    Kelly and I do all of our whole class teaching together. Our introductions and explanations bounce off each other and can almost seem scripted at times! Contrary to what some people have asked in the past, it is certainly not “tag-teaching” where one person teaches and the other person rests!

    Following our whole class explanations, we teach small groups or individuals separately. This provides real advantages for meeting students’ needs as the children can be flexibly grouped together.

    KM reading

    Our Blog

    Most readers will know that the 2KM and 2KJ blog is a huge part of our classroom. In 2010 we had two separate blogs however we find it much more efficient and effective to have one joint blog this year. This also has the advantage of cutting down the work load for Kelly and me.

    Every day we start with 20 minutes of blogging and also work on the blog at other times during the day. A day without blogging would be unheard of. Read more about that here.

    Our blog is a way for our students to improve their literacy skills, collaborate globally, connect with parents, learn about internet safety, work for an authentic audience and develop the classroom community, among other things.

    In 2KM and 2KJ, we love blogging and it has opened up the world to our young students. Our students don’t just learn from their teachers and classmates, they have children and educators from all around the world who impact on their development daily.

    Benefits

    My opinion is that our team teaching is hugely successful. Kelly and I feel like our students’ learning outcomes are greater overall when compared to when we used to teach separately.

    Most people would agree that in order to continually learn and improve, individuals need to engage in regular reflection. This includes teachers.

    Team teaching allows for such rich reflection almost every hour of the day (and night!). When we’re not teaching, Kelly and I find ourselves talking non-stop about what our students need to work on, what ideas we could use and how our teaching is going. Our ideas just seem to bounce off each other proving that ‘two heads are better than one’!

    I simply can’t compare how valuable team teaching is as opposed to teaching  individually and working in a grade level ‘team’. Discussing my students with someone who is never in my classroom rarely works for me – the inside knowledge and vested interest just isn’t there. Kelly and I are still part of a great team and it is fantastic for sharing general ideas and strategies etc, but for specific, individual professional dialogues, I prefer to talk to someone who is in my classroom.

    Why it Works

    I think the main reason our team teaching is so successful is our compatibility. I strongly believe that that two teachers cannot be just put together and told to team teach.

    Kelly and I chose to embark on our collaborative teaching. We have almost identical views on discipline, organisation, work ethic, student expectations, teaching philosophies and even smaller things like noise tolerance and how we like our classroom to look. Our partnership is harmonious and productive.

    Obviously we are not clones of each other and despite many similarities, our personal strengths in different areas also complement each other. I believe this helps to provide a rounded education for our students.

    Student Response

    Our students respond extremely well to our team teaching situation. 2KM and 2KJ has developed a great community atmosphere with students having the chance to work with a wide range of their peers. If Kelly or I are ever absent and the doors are closed, the students are very quick to complain!

    At the end of 2010 we surveyed parents about having their student in a team teaching/open classroom. All parents responded positively and said that they felt it had benefited their child.

    What Next?

    Kelly and I would love to be able to teach the same cohort of students for two years and see where we can take them. As Chris Bradbeer said in his recent post

    In setting up learning hubs where children stay with the teachers for certainly two years, there was a feeling that learners wouldn’t experience that ‘dip’ of lost learning that is always evidence post summer holidays, as teachers and children get to know one another.”

    We just know we’d be able to help our students achieve even greater success if we had more time! We hope we are given the opportunity to try this at some stage.

    KM, KJ and Leo

    Have you been involved in a team teaching situation? How did you find it?

    Do you have any other questions or thoughts on team teaching?

    Doing Things the Long Way

    In many ways, technology can be time saving. Especially if you know the best way to use it!

    Yesterday I attended and presented at the 2011 VITTA (Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association) Conference.

    One of the sessions I attended was run by Andrew and Beverly from Mitcham Primary School. They gave a terrific presentation about using iPads in the junior primary classroom.

    I learnt so much, but one of the simplest tips I took away was that you can sync more than one iPod/iPad at a time. The number of iDevices you can sync is simply limited to the number of USB ports you have.

    This is the fourth year I have been using iPod Touches in the classroom and I can’t begin to imagine how many hours I have wasted by syncing the iPods one by one. At one stage I was in charge of updating eight iPod Touches which I did one at a time. I never thought to try to plug more than one in!

    idea

    Today I was thinking about how people can go on for a very long time doing things the long way with technology. It’s not until you either try to find an easier way or someone tells you that you realise how easy something could be!

    I recently informed another teacher that they didn’t have to type in a URL every time they wanted to visit a site, they could simply save it to favourites/bookmarks. This simple tip which is obvious to most of us made this teacher’s day!

    I think it is important that we create a culture of sharing not only with our staff but with our students. I like to explicitly teach my students ICT skills, but I also encourage them to share their tips and discoveries with their peers.

    If we have a culture of sharing, perhaps we’ll save too many people from “doing things the long way”!

    What is something that you used to do the long way until you realised there was a simpler way?

    Image attribution: ‘Who Else Has A Bright Idea?’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/27954776@N04/3168683736