Primary Tech

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.

Quality Student Blogs Part Two – Post Topics

Last week I wrote about how students with their own blogs can be guided to create quality posts.

After I published my post, I showed my class the less ideal post example I used about dogs. It was so interesting to get their opinions on the fictional post. Seeing their “shock” at the lack of proofreading, lack of content and the use of multiple exclamation marks etc. was quite amusing! It made me realise that we have created a classroom culture where students aim for high standards.

When students in my class earn their own blog, I generally have a chat to them about the sort of posts they’d like to write about. Some students like to make blogs with a particular theme, such as cooking or sport. More often than not, students like to create blogs with a variety of post topics.

A common pattern

Without guidance or discussion, I have found that students can get into the habit of writing blog posts such as

  • My family
  • My pets
  • My friends
  • My favourite sports
  • My favourite animals
  • My favourite books
  • My favourite foods….

The “My Favourite…” theme can go on and on!

I saw this pattern emerge many times before realising the students could be encourage to “think outside the square”.

Be observant 

Linda Yollis recently gave one of my new student bloggers some excellent advice, “You mentioned that you are thinking about future topics…. I also recommend just being observant. Sometimes posts come from something you notice in your backyard or on a drive somewhere. For example, I sometimes do posts about plants in my backyard or something new I noticed in my neighborhood. Hobbies are also a wonderful topic.”

I think writing about what you observe is a wonderful tip for student bloggers. Encouraging curiosity and the exploration of something new could help a student grow in so many ways.

Think about your audience

Another element that is important for student bloggers to understand is that your blog is not only about you and what you like, but about your readers too. Readers = comments = interaction = learning and growth!

Blogging is different from traditional writing or journalling; you are writing for an authentic audience.

Students need to think about whether their post topics are interesting for themselves and their readers. They also need to provide enough background information to help their reader understand the context of the post.

Fresh ideas

I recently helped a student think of some ideas for post topics. Here are some of the ideas that we came up with….

  • A recipe with photos and instructions that others could follow
  • A movie or book review
  • A restaurant, hotel or tourist attraction review
  • A poem or short story
  • Instructions to do …. anything
  • A discussion on what you’re learning at school
  • List of some of your favourite websites with details
  • A family tradition
  • What makes you happy/angry/laugh….
  • My dream holiday
  • Make a poll where readers vote on your next post topic

Role models

It’s great for students to look to other students as role models. Just a few examples include:

Bianca - 2012 is Bianca’s third year of blogging after starting in my grade two class in 2010. She is a regular poster who has formed some strong connections with teachers, students and parents overseas.

Jarrod - this student was in my grade two class in 2011. He continues to blog in a non-blogging class and uses a wide variety of tools.

Miriam - this student established her blog when she was in Linda Yollis’ class. She continues to create regular posts that are very interesting and well written. Continuing the family tradition, Miriam’s younger sister, Sarah, also blogs.

Royce - this boy also earnt his blog while in Linda Yollis’ class. Every couple of weeks, he creates a new post with interesting information or observations.

'Rosie the Blogger' www.flickr.com/photos/9106303@N05/2493066577

What ideas or advice do you have for student blog posts?

Quality Student Blogs Part One – Posts

As I have written about before, I have a system in my classroom where students can earn their own blog. Adapted from Linda Yollis’ idea, I have found the system to work well in both my grade two and grade four classes.

Recently, six 4KM and 4KJ students were the first to earn their own blogs for 2012. They join a couple of student bloggers in our class who were in 2KM or 2KJ in 2010.

Teaching about and encouraging quality comments is a big part of our classroom blogging program. It is the first blogging skill we teach students and we invest a lot of time in this process. I have found that quality commenting allows the students to improve their literacy skills and engage in meaningful conversations on the blog.

Teaching students about creating quality blogs and writing quality blog posts is another area that needs explicit teaching and ongoing feedback. 

Over a series of blog posts, I will look at aspects of quality student blogging.

What makes a quality student blog post?

Over the years, I have discovered my own definition of quality by working with my student bloggers.

Left to their own devices, I have seen many students create posts like this.

While enthusiasm is high, this is not the sort of work I’d like my students to aim for. I believe the following areas need attention.

  • Overuse of glitter text – very tempting for young bloggers!
  • Unnecessary post introduction. I find many student bloggers want to start each post with “Today I am going to talk about…”
  • Lack of content. I would encourage this student to either research some information about dogs or write a personal reflection on their dog.
  • Lack of proofreading and overuse of exclamation marks.
  • Use of unattributed, copyright image from Google Images.
  • Limited interaction with reader (ie. they could end the post with some questions).
By contrast, below is a post by Jarrod who is still blogging (in a non-blogging class) after being in my grade two class in 2011.

Jarrod has
  • Written about a topic that interests him, and would also be useful to others (game review).
  • Used text and images without overdoing coloured fonts or glitter text.
  • Proofread his work with an adult and corrected most errors.
  • Included a link to the game he was reviewing.
  • Ended his post with questions for his readers. Not surprisingly, Jarrod received 29 comments on this post.

Tips for writing quality posts

Helping students to create high quality blog posts is an ongoing process. I don’t teach them about every aspect of quality blogging as soon as they begin. Teachable moments often occur as students travel along their blogging journey.

Some of the tips I give student bloggers include:

  • Write posts semi-regularly such as every week or two. People might not have a chance to read posts that are published too close together. Readers might forget about your blog if you leave too long of a gap between posts.
  • Write about something that you are interested in but also something that will interest others. I will write more about chosing post topics in an upcoming post.
  • Reply to all/most of your commenters. Readers will be encouraged to comment again if their comment is acknowledged or if they engaged in a conversation.
  • Don’t overdo glitter text and keep fonts consistent and easy to read. Yellows and fluro colours are generally very hard to read.
  • If you want to use images, use creative commons images, screenshots or your own photos/artwork. I have written about teaching students to use creative commons images here.
  • Make posts easy to read. Left aligning text, using paragraphs, subheadings and/or dot points all helps the reader take in your post more easily.
  • Experiment with web 2.0 tools to make your posts interactive and engaging. In the past, I have explicitly taught students about some tools and also encouraged them to find their own new tools that meet their needs.
  • End posts with questions to provide readers with commenting prompts. Formulating questions that a variety of readers could answer is a skill that we like to help our students develop.
  • Proofread and check your facts before publishing. One of my student bloggers recently wrote a post about my upcoming visit to the USA without checking his facts. He wrote that I was going to stay at one of Linda Yollis‘ student’s houses! This was definitely a teachable moment.

What tips would you give to help student bloggers construct quality posts?

Look out for my next post about quality student blogs!

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!

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?

Eight Weeks ’til ISTE!

Today marks eight weeks until I’ll be at ISTE!

For those who haven’t heard, ISTE is the International Society of Technology in Education‘s Annual Conference. The conference is one of the world’s biggest for educational technology and this year it will be held in San Diego. There will be over 700 sessions held over four days, and a plethora of networking and sharing amongst thousands of educators.

It was Linda Yollis’ idea for us to present together at ISTE. We applied last year and when our application was successful we began making plans for our trip to San Diego.

My students have been working with Linda Yollis and her class since early 2009. They were our first real blogging buddies and we have worked on many collaborative projects together. We feel like we know each other well but have never met in person!

Our session is called Educational Blogging: Flattening Classroom Walls! We look forward to sharing how we use blogging to drive global collaboration in our classrooms.

We hope if you’re attending ISTE, you’ll add our sessions to your conference planner.

There are many members of my PLN who I look forward to meeting at ISTE and some fantastic sessions that I am excited to attend.

Thanks to Tracy Watanabe who also shared the details for ISTE Unplugged; the “fringe festival” of the ISTE conference.

Please leave a comment if you’re attending ISTE. What are you looking forward to?

Have you attended ISTE before? Do you have any tips?

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?

Students Learning From Their Blogging Buddies

I seem to be continually uncovering more and more benefits to educational blogging. Aside from the advantages that I’ve shared here and here, having your class involved in the educational blogging community allows students to learn from and with their peers from all around the world.

In my class we often use our blogging buddies’ posts as inspiration for classroom activities, and as role models for high standards of work.

One such example was the readers’ theatre activities that we were doing last week as part of our CAFE reading program.

Throughout the week, we read a range of readers’ theatre scripts and used the posts on Mr Salsich’s Classroom Blog and 4T’s Classroom Blog as inspiring models.

We published one of our own performances on our class blog here which hopefully continues the cycle of sharing.

There have been many other instances when my students have learnt from their blogging buddies. Just a few that spring to mind are:

When using ideas from other people’s blogs, we like to acknowledge where our idea came from. I believe this is good blogging etiquette to model to the students.

Being part of the blogging community not only enriches my students’ education but assists me to create authentic and interesting classroom activities. Everyone wins!

How have blog posts inspired your class activities?