Primary Tech

Benefits of Educational Blogging Video

The benefits of educational blogging is something I have discussed many times on this blog.

Kelly Jordan and I regularly speak to teachers at our school and around the world about blogging. Rather than us always selling the benefits we decided to make this video with our students to highlight some of the advantages of having a class blog.

The video goes for 15 minutes. We hope you enjoy it.

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.

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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?

Attracting Blog Comments

There is no denying that students get a lot more out of blogging when they receive comments. Comments provide feedback, encouragement, advice, positive reinforcement, learning, conversation and new ways of thinking among other things.

Kathleen Morris

2012 is the fifth year I have been blogging with my class and I have learnt that there are some tips for attracting comments to your blog.

For the first year or two of blogging we received very few comments. When I look back, I can hardly believe that I was motivated to keep going when so many posts were not commented on. Now every post on our class blog receives anywhere between 30 and 80 comments. I am glad I kept going!

Jakob Nielson wrote an interesting article about participation in online communities. While the article is now five years old, I think the key message holds truth today. To summarise, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

While I have found this to be true, I would suggest that the education community (students, parents and teachers) can be influenced a little more than the general online community. We have a vested interest in supporting children!

12 tips for attracting more comments on your class or student blogs

  • Be part of the blogging community: To put it simply, you can’t expect people to comment on your blog if you don’t ever comment on theirs. There is an active community in the educational blogosphere and you will reap the rewards if you get involved in it.
  • Finish your post with questions: Take some of the guesswork out of commenting and give readers some suggestions on what they could comment on. This is something that I have found works very well with my class blog. Make sure you include open-ended questions that appeal to a wide audience.
  • Don’t write all the answers: I may be a little guilty of this with this post but if you write an open-ended/incomplete post then people feel like they have something to contribute and will be more likely to comment. I find that if everything has already been said in a post and I feel like I don’t really have much to add, I would be less likely to comment.
  • Educate readers on how to comment: Don’t assume that all teachers/parents/students know how to leave a comment. I provide parent handouts and a video on how to comment. You might choose to have a “how to comment” page on your class blog like I have.
  • Reply to comments: I believe that it is basic blogging etiquette to reply to all/most comments. Acknowledge your readers’ comments, interact with them and they will be encouraged to comment again.
  • Be original and diverse: I encourage my students to post about not only what appeals to them but what they think might appeal to their audience. I think this is important in the development of their writing skills and of course is a good way to attract comments. Including a diverse range of posts allows you to offer something to suit everyone.
  • Publish in a timely manner: People won’t be very interested in commenting on an event that happened three weeks ago. We try to publish a post as soon as possible after a class event on the 4KM and 4KJ blog. Students and families are more likely to comment when their enthusiasm about an event is high.
  • Publicly read and praise comments: We start each school day with 20 minutes of whole-class blogging. This provides a chance for students to read out the comments they have left at home and school in the past 24 hours. We have found that there was a big increase in comments when we started doing this. Students respond well to praise and are eager to get their five minutes of fame.
  • Hold a commenting event: We have held a few special class events to stir up some new enthusiasm for commenting with great success. Some of these events included the Family Blogging Afternoon and Family Blogging Month competition.
  • Invite people to comment: Every fortnight I send out an e-newsletter to parents. I often ask them to comment on a particular post. When people are directly asked, they are sometimes more likely to commit to doing something.
  • Inform people of new posts: You need to make it easy for people to know when you have a new post. If they don’t know about your posts, they’re not going to comment. Set up an email subscription and RSS feed, and consider using Twitter to publicise posts.
  • Have a pattern to publishing: Readers get to know whether you have a blog that is updated a few times a week, a few times a month or less regularly. Personally, I’m more likely to comment on blogs with a regular pattern of posting – even if it is only updated semi-frequently. Blogs that are updated very rarely or sporadically are easy to forget about.

Remember, it takes work and ongoing effort to attract comments on your blog, however once you build up the momentum the effort decreases and the rewards increase!

What has been your experience with blog comments?

What other tips do you have for attracting blog comments?

The Power of Twitter

In the last few weeks Kelly Jordan and I have been speaking to teachers and school leaders at the VITTA conference, ICON conference and our own school about the power of Twitter.

In our presentation we shared how we use Twitter every day as a form of ongoing, personalised and invaluable professional development. We stressed that Twitter not only makes us better teachers but impacts on our students.

We concluded our presentation with an example of the power of Twitter; sharing how it helped to connect one of my seven year old students to the world.

Jarrod is a student in my grade two class who earnt his own blog in June of this year.

When my students write posts on their blogs, I often promote their post with a tweet using the hashtag #comments4kids. You can read more about that wonderful hashtag here.

One Friday night in July, Jarrod wrote a new blog post asking his readers to vote on his poll to help choose his next blog post. Jarrod had only been blogging for a few weeks and had a very small readership.

Jarrod's blog poll

I sent out a tweet to my PLN and the #comments4kids followers encouraging them to support Jarrod.

Jarrod tweet

The response was amazing! My single tweet was retweeted 17 times.

Jarrod retweet Two

27 people took the time to leave a comment on Jarrod’s blog post.

42 conversations Jarrod

Jarrod’s Clustrmap showed 113 visits in 24 hours.

Jarrod Clustrmap 113 visits

The poll Jarrod put in his blog post showed 117 votes.

Jarrod poll

The next morning, Jarrod’s mum emailed me: “You should have seen Jarrod’s face when he saw his post this morning, he was so excited!”

Without Twitter, Jarrod would not have had an authentic audience for his work. He would not have received validation and encouragement from a wide range of teachers, education professionals and students. Jarrod would not have received the positive reinforcement that showed him his voice counts.

Jarrod is seven years old and is now connected to the world. Many of the people who visited Jarrod’s blog on this one night in July have returned to offer Jarrod more encouragement, support and conversation.

All this from one tweet…

How have you experienced the power of Twitter?

New Blog by Shawn Avery: Tech Tutorials

One member of my PLN who I have formed a strong connection with is Shawn Avery (aka @mr_avery).

Shawn is a 6th grade teacher in Massachusetts and his class blog is http://mravery.edublogs.org

Shawn has some excellent ideas for integrating technology in the classroom and has done some inspiring work with movie making (check out his new Math Move Network).

Shawn is a big supporter of teachers and students around the world so please take a moment to check out his new blog, Tech Tutorials.

This blog reviews web 2.0 tools and provides screencasts (how-to videos) on how to use the tools.

You can subscribe to Shawn’s blog by entering your email address on the right hand side of his blog. You will then receive an email every time he publishes a new post.

Tech Tutorials

Enjoy Shawn’s blog and spread the word!

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

Looking Back 2004-2011

I finished university at the end of 2003 and started teaching in January 2004.

Like all graduate teachers, the beginning of my teaching career was a steep learning curve. Fortunately, I felt like I had a lot of role models around me on staff. As I embarked on my career, I remember thinking a lot about what makes a good teacher and what sort of teacher I’d like to be.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has changed in the past eight years. I know I’ve changed enormously since 2004 but have all teachers? Are those teachers who were role models for me in 2004 still roles models?

Sadly, in the majority of cases, the answer is no. The simple fact is, some teachers are teaching the same as they were in 2004 when the world was a different place.

There is no denying that technology has changed the way we live. So many of the tools I use now in my classroom, professional learning or administration have only come about in the last eight years.

Here are some examples:

  • Interactive whiteboards – I didn’t even see one until about 2007. Now most classrooms in our school are equipped with interactive whiteboards and I use mine for every lesson.
  • iPod Touch – Launched in 2007, I started using iPod Touches in 2008 and they’re regularly integrated into my curriculum.
  • iPad - Launched in 2010, I started using mine in the classroom this year.
  • Edublogs - Launched in 2005, I started blogging in 2008. Edublogs has now reached one million blogs.
  • YouTube - Launched 2005.
  • Twitter - Launched 2006.
  • Flickr - Launched 2004.
  • Facebook - Launched 2004.
  • Diigo - Launched 2006
  • Skype - Launched 2003.

The world had changed so much since I began. Who knows what the next eight years will bring. All I can say is I plan to ride the wave, embrace change, reflect and reinvent!

Image: 'The tube' http://www.flickr.com/photos/16932921@N08/2161046983

Image: 'The tube' http://www.flickr.com/photos/16932921@N08/2161046983

How has your teaching changed since you started in the profession?

15 Blogging Tips for Students and Teachers

This post was originally published last year as 10 Blogging Tips for Students and Teachers.

As I regularly help students and other teachers set up their blogs, I find myself giving lots of little tips that I have picked up on my own blogging journey.

My list of tips keeps expanding and I thought it was timely to republish an updated version of this post.

Many of these ideas have originally come from some of my blogging “mentors” such as Linda Yollis and Sue Waters.

Here are 10 15 Blogging Tips for Students and Teachers

1. Post frequency: Find a balance. Don’t post too often (ie. daily) otherwise you will not be able to generate much conversation through commenting and readers won’t be able to keep up. Post too infrequently (ie. monthly) and your readers might start to forget about you.

I advise my students to post no more than once or twice a week, while three times a week works well for my class blog. Decide what works for you.

2. Reply to comments: I am often disappointed by student and adult bloggers who do not reply to their comments on their own blog. I feel that it is basic blogging etiquette to reply. Acknowledge your readers’ comments, interact with them and they will be encouraged to comment again.

3. Have an “About” page: The first thing I do when I visit a new blog is look at the About page. I am always disappointed when there isn’t one! Don’t keep your readers in the dark about who you are and what you’re blogging about.

4. Theme changes: Students love playing around with different themes when they first start blogging. I encourage them to explore for a week or so but then advice them to find a good theme and stick with it. Readers may be able to identify less with your blog if it looks different every time they visit it.

5. Fun widgets: Young bloggers love widgets! In my opinion, it is advisable to limit “fun” or “novelty” widgets. Too many widgets take away from the actual content of the blog posts and can slow down loading time! I suggest my students have no more than three “fun widgets” such as virtual pets, Christmas countdowns, jokes, tips, music clips etc.

6. Add a search box: Early on in the year, I teach my students how to use the search box on blogs to find content. I find it frustrating when blogs don’t have the search box. This simple tool allows readers to find what they’re looking for and means when your posts are no longer on the front page, they won’t be lost.

7. Subscribe via email: While I also use Google Reader and Twitter to keep track of blogs I like, I love having the ability to subscribe via email to my favourite blogs. Adding this feature could bring more regular visitors to your blog.

8. Add links to blog posts and comments: Links help your visitors gain a deeper understanding of what they’re reading. Links in blog posts can also be used to acknowledge or compliment others’ work. Links in blog comments can add extra information to a conversation. If you don’t know how to add a link to a blog comment, check out Linda Yollis’ excellent blog post and quick video.

9. Visit other blogs: You can’t expect many people to read and comment on your blog if you don’t read and comment on others’ blogs. You have to be part of the blogging community to get the most out of blogging.

10. End with a question: On my class blog and this blog I like to end with a question to stimulate and direct conversation in the comment section. My Grade Two bloggers are learning how to ask “broader” questions that will appeal to more readers (eg. if a child writes a post about a holiday to Noosa, instead of simply asking “have you ever been to Noosa?” they could ask readers to leave a comment and describe a holiday they have been on etc).

11. Don’t lose your comment: All my students now know how to select all (Control A) and copy (Control C) their comment before they hit “submit”. This allows them to paste (Control V) the comment if something goes wrong when they hit the “submit” button. This happens fairly frequently with young students due to the wrong spam word being entered etc. Read My grade two student Millie’s post about this tip here.

12. Left align your writing: I used to be guilty of centering all of my text until I realised this is not easy on the eye and not what professional writers do (always good to look to the professionals for guidance when in doubt). Style guides usually suggest that centered text is best for invitations, posters, headings etc.

13. Use paragraphs and sub-headings: As a writer, you need to do as much as you can to make your post easy to read. I am likely to stop reading something that doesn’t have any paragraph breaks. The more your writing is spaced out the better. Having key words or sub heading in bold/colour can also make your post easier on the eye.

14. Don’t copy and paste from MS Word: If you’ve been blogging for a while you may have experienced the dreaded consequence of copying and pasting text from Microsoft Word into a blog post. It is a big no no! Doing this can give you bad code which can ruin the layout of your blog.

If you do want to copy and paste from Word you either need to paste the text into the HTML section of your editor or paste the text into Notepad (or the Mac equivalent) and then copy and paste that text into your post editor. If you want to read more about this, check out Sue Waters’ post here.

15. Stick with it: One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is to give up too easily. Stick with it and reap the rewards!

Are any of these tips new ideas for you?

What other blogging tips can you think of? There must be lots more!

Using an iPod Touch in the Primary Classroom

2011 is the fourth year I’ve been using an iPod Touch in my classroom. My students enjoy using these hand held devices and they can be used to enhance student learning in many different areas.

In this post I will describe how we set up our iPod Touches and how we use them.

Funding

In 2008, I was successful in applying for a DEECD Emerging Technologies Trial Grant. We purchase 8 iPod Touches and some professional development time.

Since then, our school has budgeted to purchase a small number of iPod Touches.

We generally buy our iPod Touches from BigW and get the lowest memory model.

More than half of the classes at our large primary school now have an iPod Touch in their room.

Equipment

A headphone splitter was purchased for each iPod Touch which allow the device to be used by a group of five students at one time.

BellkinWe got the Belkin RockStar model which cost less than $20. Check out the ITmadeSimple website if you want to purchase some (currently on special for AUD$13.20).

For the first few years of using iPod Touches, I had sets of headphones for each device (not the in-ear style). I slipped each pair of headphones in a plastic pocket so we didn’t need to worry about tangled cords.

These were good but because we used them so regularly, they wore out very quickly.

This year, I asked all parents to provide their child with a set of headphones to keep in their locker tub at school. This has been a terrific solution and the students also use these headphones for our class netbooks.

Logistics

Kelly Jordan and I currently have 4 iPod Touches in our class of 43 students.

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We use our iPod Touches in our reading groups every day. We sometimes use them for small group  maths activities and sometimes allocate individual students time on the iPod Touches for a particular purpose.

We have found that a rotational approach to using iPod Touches works well when you only have one or a small number in your classroom.

While our headphone splitter works well to share one iPod between 5 students when they are listening to stories, podcast or videos, activities that involve apps are better in a 1:1 or 1:2 situation. We have found one way to get around this.

If a group of students were playing an app, they might take it in turns to have a go with the app while also engaged in another related activity. For example, students could be  taking it in turns to play the app Wurdle, while other students play the Boggle board game.

Apps

I usually find my apps by recommendations, searching and reviews.

Sample Apps

Tania Hunt is a teacher at Bellbridge Primary School. She has put together these screenshots of apps she uses on her 3rd gen iPod Touches with her primary students.

This is Tania’s website with links to some great literacy and numeracy resources for the junior primary classroom.

App Reviews

This website contains useful reviews of educational apps.

http://www.iear.org/

iear

Apple in Education

This page on the iTunes website features some apps that can be used in education. If you click on the links, you can see the collection of apps in the iTunes store for a range of different subject areas.

http://www.apple.com/education/apps/ipodtouch-iphone.html

apple

Sample Activities

As well as accessing the wireless internet on the iPod, our grade two students complete a range of activities on the iPod Touches. This is just a small sample.

  • Students listen to various stories.  There are many free story podcasts available from the iTunes store. Some good ones include Storynory and The Story Home. We often have students practise various reading strategies as they are listening such as visualising, tuning in to interesting words (and listing), coming up with questions etc.
  • How-to videos from the howcast site have been stored on the iPod and students have followed the instructions to complete a task (eg. making origami).
  • Students have listened to songs and sequenced cards containing the lyrics to the song.
  • Students listen to a recording of instructions which they must comprehend to draw something or complete a simple task. The recording can by made by a student to practise oral language skills or a teacher.
  • Students have watched short videos (downloaded off YouTube or made in the classroom) and completed various response and comprehension activities.
  • Student created videos and podcasts have been added to the iPod as a way of sharing student work with the rest of the class.

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Other Ideas

Tom Barrett and his readers have put together this slideshow with other ideas about using the iPod Touch in the classroom.


Click here
if you can’t see the presentation above.

Final Thoughts

The iPod allows students to learn at their own pace as stories and videos can be paused and replayed many times.

It is a great way to reinforce concepts and encourage independent as well as co-operative group learning.

I have also found the iPod Touch to be engaging for reluctant learners and helpful for students with learning difficulties.

How do you use the iPod Touch in the classroom?

Can you share any apps or activities?

Troubleshooting Computer Problems

I am a big advocate of training my students to become as independent as possible with technology. Many technology users can get bogged down with “technical issues” which can take away from the benefits of using the tools.

As I have written about before here and here, I try to make my use of ICT explicit to my Grade Two students. While teaching incidental skills, rather than simply instructing, I like to ask the students what they think we should do. I believe that confident users of ICT use their intuition a lot and this is something I want to develop in my students.

With the addition of 20 new netbooks to our classroom, the need for students to be able to troubleshoot their own problems has increased.

I recently made this poster to remind students of the troubleshooting skills we have discussed incidentally.

After going through the poster with the students, it is displayed in various places in the classroom as a constant reminder of how to troubleshoot common computer problems.

For a little bit of humour, I love this cartoon that Kim Confino once published in a blog post.

tech_support_cheat_sheet

What other troubleshooting tips could you add?

How do you teach your students to troubleshoot?