2011 School Year Begins

Today was the first day back at school for teachers in Victorian Government Schools.

All schools are spending the first three days on professional development and planning.

This year my school is focussing on in-house professional development. Each Monday night teachers will be presenting on Literacy, Numeracy and ICT. I am in charge of ICT professional development.

Last year, I set up a weekly lunch time ICT Drop in Session for teachers to assist them with blogging, IWBs and general ICT questions. I hope to continue with this this year to follow up on my Monday night sessions.

Today I presented to my staff about ICT. My guidelines were broad so I decided to offer my Top Ten Tips to Integrate Technology in the Classroom.

The ideas in the presentation are some of the areas that I will cover in PDs throughout the year. I knew not everything in the presentation would appeal to all teachers however I hoped there was something to inspire everyone.

The highlight of the presentation was skyping with the wonderful Linda Yollis in California, USA. Linda not only spoke about some of the ways she had used Skype in the classroom but demonstrated how Skype is actually used for those teachers who were unfamiliar with this tool.

How does your school structure professional development?

What are you focussing on at the start of the school year?

What would you include in your Top Ten Tips for Technology Integration?

Follow Up: Overcoming Obstacles

In my last post, I wrote about some common obstacles that teachers put forward as to why they don’t blog or use technologies in their classrooms.

I discussed lack of time, lack of equipment, lack of keyboarding skills and internet safety along with possible solutions to these issues.

The comments on this post were very insightful and I enjoyed hearing the viewpoints of others.

The comment that stood out for me most was by Jonah Salsich. I’ve summarised what he said here but go back to the previous post to read his full comment.

I think one of the biggest reasons some teachers are hesitant to blog … is the perceived learning curve. They know how to teach the way they always have … and that way works.
Technology integration requires time investment, learning new skills, and troubleshooting … we are asking teachers to act as students.

I’m beginning to think that working with technology might be a specific type of learning modality. We are familiar with the idea that students learn in different ways – spatially, kin-esthetically, linguistically, etc. It’s no different for teachers, we all have different learning strengths.

… we shouldn’t assume that all teachers can pick up blogging the way many of us have. And I don’t think it has much to do with the whole “digital immigrant/digital native” idea. I’m a digital immigrant (never really used the internet until I started teaching 5 years ago) and I can spend hours tinkering with web applications … (teachers) just may struggle with the type of learning involved.

This made me think, perhaps the unfamiliar learning style/modality is the biggest reason some teachers don’t get into blogging or technology integration?

A visual representation: obstacles to integrating technology in the classroom

I came up with this diagram to explain my thoughts.

Obstacles diagram

Of course, it’s not this linear and exact but it is one way of thinking about the issue.

The unfamiliar learning style could be the biggest obstacle people face when thinking about integrating technology into the classroom. For people like me (and probably you) this is no obstacle. We don’t know everything but we’re prepared to learn. We know that learning won’t be overly difficult.

If the learning style is an obstacle for you, you might stop there. If not, then you can look at the issue of time. I put “perceived” lack of time because, to me, it is a perception. I know people with families and lots of commitments actually do have less time than others, however I’m sure we all know some educators who spend a lot of time chatting and “fluffing around” before/after school and during time release. Or, we know teachers who spend a lot of their time on tasks that could be replaced by blogging/technology.

If you think you can’t find time you might stop there. Otherwise, you can look at the issue of support. School support is crucial however, I have see cases where apprehensive administrative teams or parents can be convinced with education. Often it is fear and lack of understanding that creates negative attitudes. Getting parents to be actively involved in blogs is something I have written about before. Find that post here.

Finding support from like-minded teachers really helps. Sometimes your school isn’t the only place to look for this support. I have found creating a professional learning network (PLN) online to be a fabulous way to become a better teacher. I wrote about how I use Twitter to create a PLN here. There is so much support out there, you just have to find it.

If you can’t generate the support you need, you might stop there. Otherwise, you can look at the issue of equipment. Lack of computers is something I’ve already addressed but as Mrs W pointed out in my last post “Living in rural Australia, at home I can only get wireless broadband and at a low signal strength. Internet comes and goes on and off. Many of my parents have similar issues.” This is very frustrating and difficult to overcome, I know because up until early 2010 our school internet was so slow you could almost not use it! Hopefully the National Broadband Network will provide a solution for our rural classrooms.

Sites being blocked is also frustrating although each school in Victoria can control what they want to block so maybe talk to your school technicians if this is an issue for you. Read my Tech Tools for Teachers about filtering in Victorian government schools for more information.

Finally, if you can get past the issue of equipment and bandwidth there are a multitude of other obstacles that could be important and unique to you such as lack of keyboarding skills and student age. Overcoming these obstacles requires the desire to do so, and a positive and creative approach.

What do we do about this?

After pointing out the unfamiliar learning style as being a major obstacle for many teachers, Jonah Salsich went on to say

However, just as the student who struggles with maths (or literacy, communication, etc.) still needs to learn those skills, teachers need to learn the new skills inherent in tech integration.

Or do they?… Are their colleagues telling them they need to? Are their administrators telling them they need to? Are the parents telling them they need to? If not, then they don’t need to learn it. We would like them to because we see the benefits and we enjoy it, but until they need to learn it many of them won’t. If I didn’t demand that my students who struggle with maths learn it, they certainly wouldn’t do it on their own.

I responded

The thing is, yes there are kids that don’t like maths and there are teachers that don’t like maths but can those teachers get away with not teaching maths? No way.

As you said “Are their colleagues telling them they need to? Are their administrators telling them they need to? Are the parents telling them they need to?”
When it comes to maths, reading, writing, history, geography and every other subject the answer is yes. Colleagues, admin and parents all expect the teacher to be teaching these things.

Why is technology still optional? Such a big issue! There is not only the issue that experienced teachers need to be encouraged, expected and supported to make that change but new teachers training at university need to have technology made a priority. From my experience with unis and student teachers, this is not usually the case.

Another issue is, teachers need to realise that their students are really missing out if they feel they cannot or will not integrate technology into their classrooms. It’s really doing their students a disservice. Maybe they don’t realise or maybe they choose not to think about this?

Sarah Leakey added

The fact that teachers might find it difficult and it may not come easily to them makes it all the more important for it to be taken up by them. What a great message to be sending kids: I find this tough and challenging but I believe it’s important so I’m going to give it a go and try and do the best that I possibly can. That’s the message a lot of us try and pass onto our kids everyday so why not show them that we practice what we preach.

Thank you to everyone else who took the time to comment on the post. I found all the comments incredible insightful and I encourage others to take a look!

I’ve come to realise that I am lucky that technology is a learning modality that I’m comfortable with (if it was music, physics, woodwork or something, I’d struggle to say the least!) I want to help other teachers become more comfortable with this way of learning.

I think it is important that this issue is discussed and personal teacher obstacles acknowledged. I believe the dialogue about solutions needs to be ongoing and support for all teachers to join us “where the grass is oh so green” is crucial.

What do you think about all this?

Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Could You Teach Without Technology?

In November last year I wrote a blog post about how I was missing my interactive whiteboard (IWB). My projector had broken and I was without it for all of Term Four. My classroom program suddenly became less authentic, less personalised and less engaging for both the students and myself.

Ironically, the same thing has happened this year! I have been without my IWB for two months and there are no signs of it being fixed any time soon. Luckily, I team teach in a double classroom with Kelly Jordan this year and we both have an IWB. So while this is hard to adapt to, I’m not totally lost!

All this has got me thinking…

Could I teach without technology?

I’m thinking the answer is no.

I mean, of course I could teach. I’d be capable of it. I just don’t think the teaching would be engaging, personalised, authentic, creative or collaborative enough to make me want to do it!

Not many people know that about three years ago I was ready to give up teaching. This would be hard for some people to believe considering how obsessed I am with the career now!

I had been teaching for about four years and I was already getting bored of it. Every day seemed to be the same and I felt confined to the four walls of my classroom.

Technology saved my career and aren’t I glad about that!

I was granted Teacher Professional Leave in 2008 which allowed me about 30 days out of the classroom to explore how technology could be used in the classroom. Through school visits, professional development, a visit the Education Department and a lot of experimentation I suddenly became extremely engaged in my career again!

I became familiar with blogs, web 2.0 tools, iPod Touches, interactive whiteboards, global collaboration and suddenly I was no longer confined to the four walls of my classroom. I instantly saw student engagement levels increase and student learning improve.

I became hooked and wanted to learn more and more about how technology could amplify my teaching and enrich my classroom program.

The journey I’ve been on over the past three years has been hugely satisfying and I am now more passionate than ever about my career.

Technology fuels my passion while enriching my students’ learning; it is now non-negotiable in my classroom program.


What do you think?

Could you teach without technology?

How did you get into technology?

Why do you like using technology in your classroom?

How Has Teaching Changed?

If you’re a teacher who is trying to encourage other staff to use ICT, you have probably heard this before?

When do I have the time to learn about this?

Learning through Twitter, blogs, online conferences etc is just part of my day-to-day life as I have described in this post. This is extremely foreign to many teachers.

I began teaching in 2004. Today I had a conversation with someone who began teaching in 1984 who explained that for the first fifteen or so years of his career, there was no professional development. It was a common belief that teachers already knew everything. Work at home involved correction; not the sort of professional learning I engage in these days.

I have the feeling there was a belief in the past that taking work home to correct was a sign of a good teacher?

Today I see a commitment to lifelong learning, professional reading and collaboration as the sign of good teaching (among many many other things!)

While I don’t discredit correction, I prefer to do it as the students are working so they are involved in the process and get immediate feedback. A perfectly organised, complete and corrected exercise book does not strike me as evidence of ideal teaching and learning in 2010.

Something just clicked today that made me think that teaching has changed. Some teachers have made this change well and others have not.

How do we help teachers realise that an investment in self-motivated learning is now unavoidable if you want to provide the best possible 21st Century education for your students?

How do we help them leave their baskets of workbooks at school and say hello to someone in Twitter, read a blog or dabble with a web 2.0 tool?


Image: ‘AHO0711-003 Ingrid Alice wearing a Mariusgenser’
AHO0711-003 Ingrid Alice wearing a Mariusgenser
Image: ‘Flat Classroom Skype’

Please leave a comment with your thoughts!

Google Doc: Incidental ICT Skills

My last post was about ICT Skills that can be taught incidentally. Ian Guest left a terrific comment with the suggestion that I make a list of these incidentals that people can contribute to.

I have started a public Google Doc spreadsheet with the “incidentals” that I suggested and others suggested in comments on the post.

This list is not complete!

What other ICT skills could we teach our students in an explicit yet incidental way?

Add your ideas to the list by clicking here.

Let’s work together to make this list a useful document for all teachers and students!

Learning ICT Skills Incidentally

Last night I was reading Edna Sackson’s latest post which focusses on subjects that are still often taught in a separate way in schools rather than in an integrated manner. One of these subjects is technology.

At most primary schools in Australia, children go off with a specialist teacher to a computer lab one hour a week for their ICT lesson. In the past, many teachers have felt satisfied that ICT was being “covered” by this weekly specialist class. In 2010, is this attitude acceptable?

While we may not see the demise of the ICT specialist class anytime soon due to many classroom teachers’ lack of skills and confidence, I believe all teachers have a responsibility to teach ICT skills in an incidental manner every day in their classroom. By incidental, I mean rather than making it a separate lesson, explicitly discuss the ICT skills that you or the students are using while completing other tasks.

This year, I have become very focussed on making my use of ICT explicit to my grade two students. As a result, after three terms I have found my students’ ICT skills have improved dramatically.

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.


Here is a list of ten things I’ve been teaching incidentally in my classroom (please add your ideas to it!)

  1. Links – at the start of the year I was so surprised that very few students knew what a link was, how to recognise one (the mouse changes to a hand when hovered over, usually underlined and a different colour). I also show the students how to “open the link in a new tab” for easier browsing of websites.
  2. Shortcuts – keyboard shortcuts can make the lives of computer users much easier! Through explicit and incidental teaching my students have become familiar with the shortcuts for copy, paste, cut, select all, undo, refresh etc.
  3. Troubleshooting when a website isn’t working properly what can you do? My students have learnt to refresh (F5) and close other programs or tabs if they have too much open as a start. When the computer isn’t working what can you do? My students are learning to check that the cords are plugged in, jiggle the mouse, check the monitor is on etc. When the computer freezes? Wait and then press control-alt-delete.
  4. Tab for cell entry – another keyboard skill that many students are unfamiliar with is using the tab key on the keyboard to move between cells or boxes on websites.
  5. The best program for the task – in ICT, the students have learnt about program such as MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel however having them develop a feel for the “best program for the job” is something we can discuss incidentally. Eg. we want to type up a letter – what program should we open?
  6. Google search skills– this is something we have the opportunity to work on regularly. When we’re not sure of something, I ask the students how can we find out? They usually suggest Google and then we can discuss what key words would be best to type in and how will we choose which websites from the list might be the most reliable.
  7. Cyber safety and netiquette – this is discussed in an incidental way almost every day in my classroom. Eg. If we’re writing a comment on a blog together we can talk about what name we should put and what information would be appropriate to post on the internet. This makes learning so much more authentic.
  8. Help – using the help feature of a program or website when you get stuck is a good habit for all computer users to develop. This can be modelled and investigated in an incidental way as the need arises.
  9. Vocabulary – what is URL, www, search engine etc? When these terms come up, it is a good chance to discuss their meaning.
  10. What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me what you think or what else you could add to this list.

Leave a comment.

Will the ICT specialist class have a future?

What do you think of the concept of incidental teaching of ICT?

What else could be on the list of skills to teach incidentally?

Student Blogging and Internet Images

A few weeks ago I set up blogs for two of my most enthusiastic student bloggers, Rhiannon and Bianca. I chose these students as they regularly left comments on our 2KM class blog and were committed to learning as much as they can about blogging.

After gaining their parents’ permission, I set their blogs up, adding myself as an administrator. I had a discussion with Rhiannon and Bianca about what they’re going to blog about and how often they’ll post. We then revised the features of quality posts as well as revising the cyber safety and netiquette guidelines they were already familiar with.

After some initial familiarisation sessions my students were off and it didn’t take them long to learn the basics of blogging.

Click here to check out Rhiannon’s blog.

Click here to check out Bianca’s blog.

Before long, my students were keen to use images off the internet to enhance their posts.

This was a dilemma for me. While my students are only in Grade Two and I don’t want to make blogging too complex for them, I knew that I would have to delve into the topic of copyright and Creative Commons to help my students develop good blogging habits.

Little do many people know, you can’t just use any images off the internet in your blog posts. Not only is this ethically incorrect but you could leave yourself open to copyright infringement.

Wanting to make this process clear to my students, I typed up a document explaining copyright, copyright infringement and Creative Commons while also offering step-by-step instructions on how to use FlickrCC to upload and attribute images in blog posts. Obviously, there is more than one way to do this but given the age of my students, I wanted to keep things as straightforward as posssible.

Below I have embedded this document. Feel free to use it with your students to teach them about these important blogging habits (note: the instructions for uploading the image to a blog post apply to Edublogs blogs).

Note – guide updated to include Wikimedia Commons instructions 20th August 2012
Using Creative Commons Images From FlickrCC and Wikimedia Commons in Blog Posts

One of the things I love about teaching seven and eight year olds is that I can teach them about issues such as copyright, cyber safety, netiquette, social networking etc just before they reach the age where they would dive into these areas, prepared or not. I feel like I can make an impact in setting my students on the right path for their futures.

I am constantly amazed at how my students respond when I challenge them and engage them with ICT and their results across the board never fail to impress me. Set your standards high, provide the structure and the support that your students need to scaffold their learning and reap the rewards!

Will the how-to document be useful for you and your students?

Do you have any questions about blogging or using internet images?

What results have you seen from using ICT and setting high standards for your students?

Tech Talk Tuesdays and Classroom 2.0 LIVE

Last week, I posted about my top ten ways to engage in online professional development (PD). Tonight I participated in one of my recommended forms of PD (which I don’t get to as often as I’d like) –  the Victorian Education Department’s Virtual Conference Centre.

While there are a wide range of sessions every day in the Virtual Conference Centre, each Tuesday Anne Mirtschin moderates Tech Talk Tuesdays. These are online sessions about all things Web 2.0 in education. There is a different topic and presenter on Tech Talk Tuesdays each week. These sessions are open to everyone and I recommend you check them out!

Tonight the special guest presenter for Tech Talk Tuesdays was Peggy George from Arizona in USA. Peggy is one of the three co-organisers of the most popular online webinars available today – Classroom2.0LIVE.

This was basically a “PD about PD” and was a terrific learning opportunity.

Classroom 2.0 LIVE are online PDs held every Saturday at 12pm EDT about technology tools used in the classroom. While this time is 2am Sunday morning for us in Victoria (not the ideal time to do a PD!) all shows are recorded. You will find links to the recorded session and follow-up links under the Archive and Resource section of the website. You can watch the video of the recorded session or just listen to the audio. There is also now an iTunesU Channel. This 40 second video explains how to use the iTunesU Channel. I’ve already downloaded some interesting sessions which I’m looking forward to playing on my iPod.

Classroom 2.0 LIVE also has a Ning social network for educators to connect and collaborate.

If you want to see the recording of today’s Tech Talk Tuesday about Classroom 2.0 LIVE, click here.

Both Tech Talk Tuesdays and Classroom 2.0 LIVE sessions provide invaluable resources for teachers wishing to pursue free, focussed and anywhere-anytime learning. Give them a try!

classroom2.0 live

Have you tried Classroom 2.0 LIVE or Tech Talk Tuesdays sessions?

Do you have any questions about these forms of online PD?

Leave a comment!

Article: Are Digital Natives Restless?

Last week I was contacted by Jewel Topfield, a reporter from The Age newspaper, who wanted to visit my classroom to watch me teach and talk to me about how I use technology in the classroom.

Jewel and a photographer visited one of our daily reading rotations in my grade two class and had the opportunity to see how we were using  our interactive whiteboard (IWB), blogs, iPod Touches, Google Docs, VoiceThread etc.

This article appeared in The Age and the national Fairfax newspapers on Saturday 21st August.

Click here to check it out

The article is entitled “Digital Natives Restless”. While I wasn’t aware that this was going to be the theme of the article, I thought the article painted a positive picture of how technology can in integrated in the classroom. I know my class will enjoy their five minutes of fame!

There were also some really important issues raised in the article about the need for digital classrooms to become to norm and the issues that surround this.

I did however try to make it clear when being interviewed that the digital native/immigrant debate is really not black and white. While students may have less reservations about “having a go” when it comes to technology you cannot assume that students are born with (or intuitively “pick up”) the skills they need.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about teaching technology “post noughties” and alluded to the importance of being explicit when teaching technology. Click here to read it.

While the newspaper article suggested that each of my students are a “digital native, someone who has never lived in a world without MP3s, mobile phones and a global information network at her fingertips.” We cannot assume that just because children are growing up with these technologies that they use them or use them well, creatively and safely. The role of the teacher in guiding technology use is more important now than ever. Teachers who cannot or will not take on this role are doing their students a disservice.

I think it is also important to mention that I was quoted in the article as saying

“McGeady says international adviser on education Sir Ken Robinson warns that switched-on, tech-savvy children switch off in a classroom dominated by teacher-led ”chalk and talk”.”

While, I still believe this is an important point to make, I was thinking aloud when trying to remember who said that in my interview and shouldn’t have mentioned the name Sir Ken Robinson as I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him. I think it was Stephen Heppell but if anyone can confirm that I’d be grateful!

Apologies to Sir Ken and Prof Heppell!


Are “digital natives” restless? What do you think?

Virtual Maths Manipulatives

I nearly always use my IWB (interactive whiteboard) for Maths whole-class introductions and often small group instruction.  Publisher McGraw Hill and Glencoe have a great maths resource for your IWB that is an alternative to IWB software. It is called Virtual Manipulatives.

Virtual Manipulatives is a Flash based website with interactive manipulatives that students and teachers can use to introduce or reinforce maths concepts. It is suitable for students from Kindergarten to Year Eight.

This site is very simple to use (mostly drag and drop) and requires very little preparation.

You simply choose a background from the collection of Game Boards, Story Boards or Work Mats. Work Mat options include place value mats, tens frames, graph paper, algebra tiles, in and out equation tables, blank calendars, number lines and number charts.

You can then set up or solve a problem by choosing from a set of manipulatives such as base ten blocks, counters, fraction tiles, cubes, spinners, tangrams, calendars, clocks, teddies and number cubes (dice).

You can narrow the choice of backgrounds and manipulatives to your grade level to find the most appropriate resources.

There is a pen tool to draw on the screen and completed work can be printed. There is also a stop watch feature to time the completion of tasks.

virtual manipulatives

Leave a comment. How could you use Virtual Manipulatives in your Maths lessons?