Saturday, September 14, 2013

Photography 101

This week has been PINs week - this is where the students have a chance to sign up for a range of different activities with different teachers.  It's always an event that creates a huge amount of excitement in our kids.  PINs stands for Passions, Interests and Needs.  It is run for our year 1/2, year 3/4 and year 5/6 groups.  Lots of people get involved from learning assistants to DP's and Principals.  It's a fantastic event that always draws in a range of exciting activities and opportunities for the students.

Previously I've been running sessions around teaching gaming to students through Scratch.  But this time I decided to go to one of my other passions and ran a photography 101 session.  It was SUCH a great time.

We started in the class with a keynote presentation (see below) of a whole bunch of photos that I had taken that demonstrated basic elements of photography.  Concepts like viewpoints, considering your background, framing and the rule of thirds were all discussed while students had a chance to see examples of each one.  From here we talked a lot in pairs - recapping main ideas and deciding which concept we were going to experiment with next.

Next we spent 40 minutes exploring our playground.  We were on our stomachs, backs, climbing, jumping, underneath and above things all in the name of taking that interesting photo.  Students tried the same subject but from different angles and using different elements or trialling different focal lock points.

It was fantastic to hear kids using terms like focal lock, rule of thirds and reflecting on why their photo was great or not so great - then running off to make a change.

Finally, we came back to the class and hooked iPads and iPods up to the Apple TV through airplay and spent some time sharing photos.  I wish we had a lot more time to do this part of the session, as the room was buzzing and the students were keen to share their favourite photos.  This is definitely something to factor in for the next session.

Below is the presentation I created and used with the students prior to taking photos to show each of the concepts we were working on today.  It was a great way for them to see the difference these elements can make to their photographs.  I also created a sheet for students to use as a reference guide when taking photos and as a take away sheet of what was happening.  You can also access that sheet here - feel free to download and use in your class.
Both the presentation and the sheet are available under a Creative Commons licence - please no commercial use, attribute the work back to me and if you make modifications please attribute back to the original piece of work.  Click here for more information about this licence.


Creative Commons License
Photography 101 by Amanda Signal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Journeys and Reflections

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to head away with my team of talented teachers on a road trip to explore 3 schools in Pahoia and Papamoa.  This is the 2nd such day our team has taken on by utilising out CRT days together and heading off to view amazing educators in action.  Our last day was out visiting schools in Auckland.

Before our visits we sat down on several occasions to talk as a team about what we wanted to see, hear and discuss by visiting schools.  These conversations helped us to structure our guiding questions that were the base of how we selected schools.  From here we spoke with educators we knew to locate schools that would help us focus on our guiding questions.  Our key emphasis this visit was on open learning spaces, negotiated learning, student ownership and the practice of reflection within the learning.  Big ideas to look at and we were more than excited about the day of visits.

The schools we visited allowed us to see a range of different understandings, directions and thinking.  It was a great opportunity to talk about the things that mattered to different schools and communities and why those things were important.  It allowed us to see some of the big picture of what small decisions in classrooms can mean or do school wide.

The 2 key themes coming from all the schools we visited were the importance of 'relationships' and 'systems' to team teaching/open learning spaces.  We were really excited about discussing these key themes with the schools, but then again afterwards amongst ourselves as we reflected on our own journey.

A key element of a successful teaching team is the relationship between the teachers involved.  A high level of trust, integrity, support, friendship and willingness is required to work in such a close space.  You are consistently a reflective buddy, support person and general day to day go to person for each other.  A shared understanding about what path the classroom is on is required to make sure that a clear path is created for the students working within the space.  What are your shared beliefs, understandings and ideas that underpin what is happening in your classroom space?  How well do you work together to make the things you want to happen in your class move from visions to happenings?   Just some of the important questions that teachers spoke of considering and thinking about.

Many principals spoke about the fact that these relationship often need to come from the teachers rather than be selected by the management team.  The driving force behind these relationships need to come intrinsically from the teachers.  This is where a lot of management have seen the most effective classrooms, as the teachers have established that the strong relationship is there.

What clear systems are in place to allow teachers and students to work within the shared space?  Do all people in that shared space have the same understanding about the little things as well as the big things in the class - where do the kids put their book bags in the morning?  To the bigger decisions - how will we group our students for ... subject?  The systems in place need to be steadfast and supported by all individuals.  In one class in particular we saw extremely clear and effective systems in place in all avenues of the classroom practice that supported both students and teachers to work in the space.  From planning, classroom space, organisation etc - the small systems in place guided all parties to use the space for effective learning.

There are also a lot of people who need to navigate day to day classroom systems - are these systems clear to you, the students and the parents?  Some of the schools we visited spoke about 'Guardian Teachers' in the open plan environment.  This system gave each parent an opportunity to feel like they had 1 parent to talk to in regards to issues/concerns and general day to day business.  This didn't mean that the student and teacher belonged specifically together, but it was a system that allowed parents to have a means of communication with one of the teachers.  A simple but effective system had been established for students, teachers, parents and management.  What was also great was being able to speak to most people along that chain and hear the same systems communicated from each party - one sign of effective systems being in place.

Moving Forward...
We took the time after each school to share our understandings, ideas, reflections and new thinking with each other.  This time was extremely valuable.  I feel privileged to work in the team that I do.  We have both relationships and systems happening currently that support and develop a range of powerful teaching and learning.  Our ability to work as a team and reflect on what we are doing and why it is working well is one of our strengths.  I felt that the themes the schools shared with us were a key element of a successful open plan teaching environment.  Yes, there are other factors but with great systems and amazing relationships some real magic can happen for the students and teachers.

Our team has used the opportunity to walk away and think about what is really important for each of us within our classroom environments.  It was great to affirm some of the things we have already placed such as shared assessment documents across our pod that is allowing us to cater for our student's needs across our pod and teachers - not just within our own classrooms.

My 2 colleagues have spent time analysing what they do and why it is important to them and then coming together to share with each other what these elements are as they continue on the journey of working in an open plan space.  There is so much more that they are doing - but that is their journey to share!  I am just privileged to be along for the journey with them as they make amazing steps in their own practice and their student's learning.

For myself, there has been a lot of assessing and balancing thoughts and ideas of my own.  It is helping to cement for me the importance of the open plan environment and what can be offered by working in a space with multiple students and teachers.  It has helped me to reflect on the opportunities I have had over the last few years to work with some amazingly talented people.  There is a lot to move forward with, for myself and my team.

We were extremely grateful to the principals, team leaders, teachers and students who gave up their time to share their learning, thought processes and journey that they are on in order for us to follow our own.  We are also grateful to our own school that allows us the opportunity to use our CRT days in this way and support us with our ongoing classroom journeys.  It's amazing what supportive and wonderful people we have in our NZ schools.

Taking a risk...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pong Game - Scratch 'How To'

Click on this link to download the 'How To Sheet' for making a Pong Game in Scratch!

This is a easy and great game to start with if you or your students are starting out with Scratch.  It allows you to learn some of the basics and learn a bit about the problem solving of Scratch.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scratch - Gaming in the Classroom

Each term our school undergoes PIN's workshops each term.  The idea of these are that students can take part in something that relates to a Passion, Interest or Need they have.  At the moment teachers choose something of interest to students or themselves and offer to run the workshop.  Alongside teachers we have teacher aides, management and parents running or supporting a workshop.  Last year another teacher and myself ran an 'in-class PINs' where students decided on topics needed and then ran workshops that other students could take part in.  Highly successful with lots of learning curves - but more on that in another post!

In our Term 1PINs I took my second workshop around the use of Scratch.  Scratch is an amazing game making piece of software that works on windows and mac machines.  It's free to download and has an extremely strong community of people and educators behind it.  (You can read more about the basics of Scratch in a previous post here).  So for students it is a perfect platform to begin the basics of programming and gaming.  Students learn about creating games through arranging and compiling a range of blocks to make scripts for their sprites (characters or game pieces).  I was originally introduced to Scratch through Tim Kong and a student of his who had moved from Scratch into creating apps.  She taught me enough to get me interested and on my way to exploring the possibility of Scratch more.

The last time I used Scratch during a PINs workshop was with a group of Year 4 students. In hind sight the task was a little too high.  Especially for 15 kids to learn Scratch in 1.5 hours who had never used it before. Yep. So, this time I tackled it very differently.

I went for simple and scaffolded options along the way to make the tasks more difficult (if they wanted to or were able to).  I was also armed with a second game plan that the students could tackle if they zoomed through the first.   The idea was for the kids to have a 'how to' sheet they could work through by self-pacing themselves to create a game.  With added elements and areas that kids could change up - colours, sounds, adding point systems, through to random ideas the kids had that we tried to implement!

One area that I was a lot clearer about sharing with the students at the start of the session, was that Scratch came down to problem solving.  If something wasn't working, it was because of something in their script.  It could be a block in the wrong place or the wrong block altogether.  But they had to stop, think and solve.  It was just a problem and it had a solution!  It became a HUGE part of the session - talking and sharing problems and how we could solve them.  The best part was for the kids to see me getting down on the floor with them and problem solving alongside them. No, I didn't know the answer!  "Oh, it doesn't work... let's have a look together..." was a common theme.  What was great was that the conversations and problem solving were not just student directed to teacher.  They moved to student discussing/sharing with another student in this way.  The students saw that as a collective group we were moving through the learning together and sharing their own knowledge was key to their success but also the success of others.

The first game the kids created was a Pong game.  Yes, the classic game we came to know and love as kids (not like the fancy games of today).  Intially the kids were a bit 'hmmm?' about creating such a basic game.  But as they got going, and saw what it takes to create a game through simple scripting the enthusiasm grew.  The problem solving, conversations, laughter and creative ideas that flowed through the room were fantastic.  Students discovering out they could record their own sounds.  Or that a certain number in the axis corresponded to a place on the stage and so much more!

The kids seemed to take quite an interest in the fact that I had been learning how to use Scratch over the last few years and were really keen to see games that I had created also!  A fun conversation where the kids were seeing me as a life long learner... even if one of my car racing games was re-named 'Nana Kart' because the car moved so slowly!

Below is an example of one of the Pong games created by a student - click here to play:
Classic Pong game wins the day!

One of the great things around Scratch is the community that is involved in commenting, playing and re-mixing games.  Within minutes of uploading our first games some of them had comments from kids sharing their high scores.  There were even kids taking the game to 'remix' them.  Remixing is where you can download the game script to use and make changes to the game.  So kids can add levels, change elements of the game and re-load their re-mixed game back up to the community.  This also allows the kids to see how their game can change and evolve.
Underneath a game students can see how many views, remixes and downloads their game has had

Though this is a basic start for the kids, it was great to see such a keen and passionate group of kids who are keen to keep going in Term 2.  We are going to look at a way in which we can maybe run a lunch time group where the students can opt in and meet, share ideas and continue to problem solve together.  Highlight... one of the boys coming up to me a week later during lunch telling me about how he's downloaded Scratch and is re-working one of his games! 

In a following post I will post up the hand out sheets that I used with the students for you to download and use.  A great starting place are the Scratch starter cards!  Also check out the Scratch Education Community for more ideas and links.  The education area of Scratch is strong and has a wealth of knowledge and resources that are great for educators.  If you are completely new to Scratch and want to know more, the 'New to Scratch' page is a great place to start.  Also, to have a quick go at Scratch without downloading the programme try the Beta browser version here.

Happy gaming!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Future Wheel

Our term focus is looking at miss-takes/re-takes and the learning process.  To kick start our term we've been investigating our school values - Respect, Success, Team, Fun and Integrity.  Across our school this is often a common place where we start to have a firm values base with our classes.  It's at the core of class expectations and treaties.  A shared language we have when talking about expectations, behaviour, learning and attitudes.

We have been working through a range of different tasks to use these values and examine life with and without them.

In comes the Futures wheel otherwise known as consequence wheel.  The idea behind this thinking tool is to get students to think of the 'what next...' to something happening.  What would be the consequence of this happening - good or bad.

So, we split into groups and each group took a value.  They then talked about what would happen at our school if this value wasn't used or we didn't use it.
This lead to some great discussions in groups around this value and it's importance in our daily lives.  It gave the students a chance to also consider a range of perspectives.  How would this outcome affect parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, our deputy principals, principal? What would this mean for them?

For the first time using this thinking tool with them it was a success - some of them found it very difficult to 'put themselves in other people's shoes' and think about how the outcome might affect that person.  Others were able to articulate a range of ideas and outcomes from many different perspectives.  Some were also quite simple but others had far reaching perspectives and consequences.  Such as the the lack of success leading to people not being able to become olympic athletes because they didn't know what 'success' felt like or how to achieve it.

I can see how the level of questioning with the students will become more and more important as we use this tool further.  Getting the students to work in a range of perspectives and think from different angles and mind frames (positive/negative) will be a basis of my questioning for the next time we use this tool.

The tool would be very effective in a place where you were looking at positive and negative outcomes and getting students to think on both sides of the coin.

Below are a few examples from our first session using the Future Wheel.
You can download my template here - this is A3 size.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Google Docs for Planning

On twitter a few people have been talking about using google docs for planning.  It's great and provides lots of flexibility.  One of the huge problems I found with google docs is that in the 'document' using tables was unbearable!  So I moved to using spreadsheets.  Which to be honest at first just made me scared - I've never been a big fan of spreadsheets and have often avoided them.

Once I got started planning in google docs spreadsheets I found a huge raft of pluses that made it easier to plan in spreadsheets than in a document.

The fabulous merge button found in google docs spreadsheets

One of the biggest pluses was being able to merge cells to create larger spaces within my planning.  Another bonus being the ability to use the same document for a term or year by using new sheet tabs along the bottom.

Our team has also created our class descriptions in this manner - allowing us to break up certain parts of our class description to make it more easily accessible for certain parts of the information we gather.

Another great feature of using google docs for planning is the ability to merge all your documents together on a google site with ease.  It allows you to easily click once to embed a document into the page you want.  For ease also allows you to quickly click out to the editable document from a link at the bottom right corner of the embedded google doc.

This link will take you to an example google doc for a yearly overview - you are welcome to make a copy and adjust or use how you need to.  It shows simply what is able to be done with your planning via a google doc spreadsheet.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A New Bridge to Cross...

A new year and a new set of challenges.  In the past few years I have been spoilt by sharing an office with a person who can reflect, discuss, inspire and challenge myself with on a daily basis.  I've had the chance to work alongside them as a team member and in the classroom.  I feel that in the last few years some strong pedagogical ideas and changes have happened in my teaching and in the way I learn.  Many of these shifts have taken place by having a person who wants to challenge, change and examine the way the classroom looks on a daily basis.

Before this, my place of reflection - this blog was the place I came to, to reflect and think about my practice and ideas. To share my learning and pass on the process.  It's amazing how a place of reflection - whether it be a person or a place - makes a difference to your pedagogy.

So my blog has sat at the side of the bridge - waiting for me, while I made new discoveries and changes in thought.  The time has come to make my way back on to the bridge - a place that has helped me gain friends and colleagues from around NZ.  The bridge that always takes me on the same familiar journey but also leads me to places of new surprises and sights.

I have loads to share and think about from the range of professional readings, tweets and conferences I have had the pleasure of attending.  Over the last short while I have had attended educamps around NZ, uLearn in Auckland and the International Thinking Conference in Wellington.  I have been able to take many things away from these conferences and also find a way to connect small ideas together that will make big changes in my understandings and teaching.

This year I also am taking on new challenges in my professional life - leading a team of talented teachers.  Taking on leadership and working towards creating a shared environment where we, as a team, can work together to be a support network for each other is my aim.  To become a strong professional learning house, sharing our pedagogy, triumphs and challenges.  I have a lot to learn and am looking forward to the year ahead.

In my classroom I am continuing to develop my passion and interest for negotiated learning in the classroom.  Students developing their self managing skills and autonomy in the classroom.  Last year saw some strong developments for myself in the way that this could be structured in the class.  Many of these changes came from reflections with the students about how they want their learning to look.  This year it will change and develop further with the different learners and needs I have within my classroom.  My passion for the integration of eLearning and mobile devices will continue with a strong basis in supporting the learning and learners in the classroom.  Examining the way student voice can be shared to understand that my students can have an audience as big as the world.

So... welcome to the place where I begin my journey back across the bridge - to the familiar place with familiar places but also lots of new sights and people.  I hope you will take part and have conversations with me in different places.  Challenge my thinking/ideas and share your own!

Photo used under CC: Heymilly

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

GAFE Summit 2012

During the holidays I had the opportunity to attend the Google Education Summit at Albany High School.  It was the first GAFE held in New Zealand and it was an awesome day of sharing and learning.  Albany High is an impressive school - that boasts amazing open learning spaces.

First session up I attended a session with Lenva Shearing looking at Teacher Dashboard created by Hapara.  It's an add on for Google Apps that allows you to manage your Google Apps environment easily.  Through the system it allows you to see work that students have completed and when.  It also allows for ease of accessing documents as the teacher rather than students having to share items or move things around.  There are some great features that help with the use of google docs such as the roll over feature - where you roll your mouse over an item to see a quick thumbnail of the document.  Simple by effective tools that help streamline the management of multiple documents in the classroom.
As part of the process Hapara help with set up - organising folders and more how you want them ready for your roll out.  The process allows for this to happen for one class or a whole school.  To find out more check out their website here.

Session 2 was the presentation of Helen King, an amazing teacher from Pt England School who uses movie making among other tools as strong hooks for her learners.  You can see examples of students work through their class blog PESKings.  It was awesome to see her passion for teaching and her students as she talked about her students and what they did in their class on a daily basis.  I was interested in hearing about the philosophy and ideas around their CyberSmart programme and the different elements that are contained inside this.  I always love the chance to explore other teachers classrooms and hear or talk to them about the things happening inside them.  It was an awesome opportunity to hear about daily life in Helen's class.

In session 3 we geared up with Google to look at training opportunities that Google presents to teachers and educators around the world.  We had a chance to talk to Wendy Gorton about resources, the Google Teacher Academy and more.  A highlight was finding out more about the Google Apps Training Centre where you can go through a series of online modules to become a Google whizz - would definitely help develop key knowledge around Google Apps and it's potential.  Another highlight was the Google Search Curriculum which provides opportunities for educators and students to learn more tips and tricks to become better researchers on the web.

The final session of the day was with Chris Bell looking at 25+ ways to use Google for blended and online learning.  A couple of my takeaways from this session was the snapshot button in Google Docs which allows you to insert images straight from your webcam.  Also the youtube editor which allows you to be able to record straight to youtube and then use the online editor to edit the video to be finished all online.  Also the youtube Schools site that is underway. A great tool that I'm keen have a go with the students - easily created, remixed and published online for sharing.

The day was also filled with lots of other great moments.  Presentations, Google Smackdown and the conversations with the amazing people that were at the day.  The general consensus was that it should definitely return on a yearly basis.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hashtags & Conferences

It's that time of the year again. uLearn has rolled around and it's a great opportunity to meet up and catch up with the people of twitter, learn, teach and share.  This year the Google Apps Summit is also happening in Auckland - a Google Apps for Education 1 day feast at Albany Senior High.

Both provide a great opportunity to learn new things even if you aren't at the conference.

"How?"  You say...

Easily through Twitter.

Each of these upcoming conferences have a hashtag that people will use when sending out a tweet.  You can easily follow the tweets this way, whether you are at the conference or not and whether you are on twitter or not.

A hashtag (#) acts like a collection agent - allowing people to group together tweets on a similar topic or subject so they can easily be collated on the internet.

Here's how it works...

The wonderful people of twitter who are at the conference taking part in keynotes, presentations or marvellous conversations will hopefully add a hashtag to their tweet.

Here is a tweet that I sent with the hashtag #GAFENZ

This tweet will then be picked up in hashtag searches when looking for the hashtag #GAFENZ.

Here are links to help you follow the tweets from both of the conferences:

The Google Apps Summit on Tuesday has the hashtag #GAFENZ or #GAFESUMMIT
#Gafesummit - You can follow the tweets that are posted here on tweetchat.

#Gafenz - You can follow the tweets that are posted here on Twitter or here on Tweetchat

ULearn is using the hashtag #ULEARN12
You can follow the tweets that are posted here on Twitter or here on Tweetchat

On tweetchat you can search for a particular hashtag and it will group them for you together so you can easily read through the tweets being sent.  You don't need to sign up to use the site, but this is an option.  You can also change the speed that you would like it to check for new tweets - just click on the 'refresh speed' at the top of the page.  This is great for when there are a lot of tweets happening - it allows you to work through the tweets without them refreshing too fast!

So whether you are at the conference or not you can keep up with the conversations, ideas, links and more that will be coming from the conferences.  If you are feeling a bit bold - you might even sign yourself up for twitter and join in the conversation!  Just remember to use the hashtag in your tweet so we can join you!

Image used under Creative Commons: Shovelling Son

Thursday, September 27, 2012


This year I've begun to look at student voice in the classroom and how students can use voice tools in their learning to more effect.  Fotobabble is one app/website that can be used in such a variety of ways and students enjoy using it.  Fotobabble is one of our 'go to' apps and websites because of it's simplicity.

The idea of Fotobabble is simple.  Take a photo, drawing or image of any kind and upload it to Fotobabble   From here all you need to do is press 'record' to record your voice talking about the image.  Press 'stop' to stop recording then 'play' to listen to it. Simple? Indeed!  From here you are able to name it and save it ready to upload to websites, intranets or link to from tweets and more.

If you have an ipod touch, iphone or ipad this process is even simpler by taking a photo from right in the app. Pressing the 'record' button to record your voice and press it again to stop.  From here you can listen to it then get it ready to send to the Fotobabble site or embed into a blog or wiki etc

The simplicity of the website and the app is what makes it so beneficial to a range of learners - young to old.  Here are a few examples of Fotobabble in the classroom - we used it to share our learning and understanding about different aspects of ANZAC Day:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Word Work Bingo

Via Twitter PrimaryPete was asking about activities and games to support spelling.  Word Work Bingo is a not a new concept, if you have a look around Pinterest there are lots of versions of this.  For this one I have rearranged other versions with some of my students favourite spelling tasks like Pyramid Writing, Rainbow Writing, Sign Language Words and the Word Search.

But the form of Word Work Bingo, is a new(ish) format in my class and my students seem to really be enjoying using it.  They work through the tasks and colour in an activity as they go.  Over and above this we also use buddy time and spellingcity to work on words (words and meanings to be able to use the words properly!)  
These form the basis of Working With Words as 1 part of the Daily 5 activities we use.

With SpellingCity I create a Google Docs spreadsheet that has each groups words for the term.  I can add to them each week but students can view their words from home, school or wherever.  At the bottom you'll see a Spellingcity link.  This links to their individual list where they can click on it and head off to SpellingCity to complete activities based on their words.  It also allows any extra games or activities I come across to be placed at the bottom for kids to come back to.
Using the Google spreadsheet acts as a nice way to collate all the information for each access both by my students and I.

Monday, August 27, 2012

QR Codes

I've been talking a lot to one of our fantastic school librarians about utilising QR Codes in the school library.  We decided that my class would have a go at creating QR Code reviews for our junior students.  As each class has 2 iPad 2's in their class, we thought that they could bring them to the library and use them to listen to reviews and recommendations about books.

After a bit of research and the amazing twitterverse I came across a site called QR Voice - which allows you to create voice QR Codes from text.  The only drawback is that it only allows 100 characters! Eek! But this worked out to be quite a fun element to creating our QR Code recommendations.

The following is the step through of the session for developing these in your class.

Developing Voice QR Codes using

Prior to the creating the QR Codes:

Session 1:
Spend some time together talking about QR Codes - have the students seen them before? Most of my students had seen them out and about but only 1-2 had knowledge of what they were for.  We talked about where we had seen them and then I showed the kids an example of what we were going to do.  This had them hooked in as they loved the QR Code scanning process.

Session 2:
The students self selected a text from our school library that they thought would be a great read for a Year 1/2 student.  This was done a week before the session.  This gave them time to read it in class and to a year 2/3 buddy throughout the week.  It helped them to be more familiar with the text - which is important.

Creating the QR Codes:

We came together around the data projector and went over what we know about QR Codes.  The kids were buddied up in pairs, selected by the teacher for a range of abilities.  Each part was broken up to allow the students to work through each element.  As groups of kids finished I ran quick workshops sharing the next stage.  This worked really well as it allowed us a group of finishers who became experts helping out other students etc.

Step 1 - Creating the recommendation/review

To create the review we encouraged kids to come up with 2-3 keywords from the story that explains the story and would make people want to read that story.  We talked a bit about who our audience was - 5/6 year olds and what would interest them.  We discussed genres and how that would help someone decide if it was a good book for them or not.  The key here is to also remember that will only allow 100 characters to be used for the QR Code it creates.

An example is the book Boy by Roald Dahl
(This was the class example I used with my year 5/6 students.  My students all used picture books aimed at year 1 and 2 students)

Keywords were:
Funny - funny stories
Tricks - Roald Dahl played a lot of tricks
Autobiography - Roald Dahl as a kid

The next step was to then use these keywords to create 2 sentences that landed under 100 characters.  They would form at least 2 sentences that used the keywords and recommended the book.


This autobiography is a great read for those that like funny stories and great tricks.

A great read for those people who like funny books, tricks, practical jokes and more in this great read.

An autobiography that shares Roald Dahls funny childhood. Tricks, practical jokes and more.  It's a must read!

From here they then used the 100 characters template to see if it would fit in 100 characters or less.

Step 2: Creating the QR Code

I created a folder on our server that contained everything the students needed for this session.  This included:

- A html link to the website
(To create this just click on the website address and drag it down to the desktop - it will give you an icon you can quickly click on to link to that website.)
- The 100 hundred characters template
- 100 hundred characters example
- QR Code Template
- Folder for finished QR Codes to go into

You could easily do all of this through google docs but for this session we used Pages as the placeholder for the QR codes.  It was easier to collate them all again at the end and print them.

Students went to QR Voice and typed in their recommendation.

When they were complete they clicked on the blue button to the side and their QR Code was created.

The students then took a screen shot of the QR Code ready for the next step.

The QR Code template was then opened up in Pages.  Students deleted the example QR Code and dropped their new QR Code in it's place.  They then updated the title of the book and reviewer.  Once this was complete the students used 'File' and 'Save As' to create their own saved QR Code into the finished folder.

To help step through this process I included the instructions again on the bottom of the QR Code template - this allowed the students another place to refer to when creating their codes.

An example of the template is below:

The kids then stuck them to the front of their books.  We have been using the class iPod and student devices to access the codes using QR Reader or i-nigma.  The kids have loved sharing their learning with each other and seeing the end product.

QRVoice is a great wee tool - the voice is a bit robotic but it's a bit of fun.  Our next step is to continue using them with our fotobabble book sells and book reviews on our class blogs and websites to share more reviews with our school.  I'm really keen to keep utilising voice and video with the QR Codes to allow access for a range of students across the school.

If you have any other questions please leave a comment and I will get back to you.

You are also able to download the 100 characters template here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Numbers Game

League Tables... boiling students and schools down to 'comparable' numbers.  Really? Is this what our world class New Zealand education is going to do to our kids? For our parents?

It boils our schooling down to a system that worries too much about numbers and not enough about the kids those numbers represent.

Just over a month prior to todays release you were saying National Standards data wouldn't be shared this year as it was "ropey" (NZ Herald, 3rd July). Then why, oh why would you share data today that you, yourself as the Minister of Education, still deems as "variable" (NZ Herald Article, 8th August).  That's a pretty short attention span, dear Minister.

I get frustrated every time I hear Hekia Parata talk about 1 in 5 kids that are failing.  But yet a student in my class who still needs support and has 'exhausted his timing' with a Resource Teacher, so he is no longer eligible for the support he needs.   I could count on numerous hands the number of kids I've taught over 10 years where they are not 'low enough' to receive the additional support that they need or they have 'exhausted their hours of support' or are on waiting lists months long, that's if they are actually 'low enough' for me to submit the pages of paperwork to get them on the waiting list.  

I have been lucky to work with one of the most amazing RT Lits I have encountered.  Who has a heart of gold for the kids she works with and a talent at supporting kids to get them back on track.  I know it frustrates her having to drop kids off and look at the long line of students waiting for her golden support.  But none of this is being addressed. Why?

This opinion piece from the Manawatu Times entitled 'When Schoolings Not So Simple' caught my eye today.  The author talks about some of the ownership coming not just solely on the schools but also onto the parents.  Also about "politicians scoring points by messing with our schools".  To me, this sums it up.  I don't see a huge want from the government to make a difference to this famed 1 out of 5 children who are failing.  If they did, they would be coming into our classrooms and asking us what we really need to help these kids succeed.  But I see a group of people who have no real understanding of what is happening in our schools and what needs to be done.  It's easy to blame teachers and schools for what is happening as a government can manage that.  When will we see a government turn around to their voters and ask them to 'adult up' and become the parents we want for our New Zealand kids?

The fact is... schooling isn't that simple.  It can't be boiled down to a set of numbers and nor should it.  There are so many human factors that also influence our students achieving. Disabilities, families, relationships, prior school experience are just some factors that need to be considered.  But they aren't being discussed.  Paul Callister (Callister & Associates) dug deeper into the 'White Flight' debate that mainstream media took up a few months ago.  They dug into the trends and analysed the actual data to come up with an entirely different view of what was happening with low decile schools.  They talk about that fact that "there are significant inequalities in New Zealand society, including schooling.  There are also major demographic, economic and social changes taking place in schools and wider society.  The inequalities and changes need analysis and debate."  There is no debate into these issues.  The mainstream media picks it up when it's a slow news day and then we are lulled back into a false sense that's everything is ok.  Because it's not on the nightly news.  But teachers are just one of the groups who face this reality everyday while trying to make educational shifts for students.

The Government wants National Standards numbers so badly from all the schools yet brand spanking new charter schools won't have to comply to them.  Start something 'new and exciting' that is going to "target those pupils who leave school without any qualifications..." (Hekia Parata, NZ Herald, 3rd August).  You want public schools to focus on breaking this statistic through National Standards but yet charter schools don't need to be part of the National Standards comparisons.  Interesting...

I am surrounded by the most amazing teachers in my school.  Who support, encourage and deliver an amazing curriculum.  We collaborate, co-operate and share resources and ideas without even thinking.  In our school we have teachers who teach amazing drama and dance... we have an artist who fosters a passion for the Visual Arts in her students... we have gymnastic coaches who are patient and supportive in developing gymnasts and that's just to name a few.  There are teachers who look for all the talents that a student brings to the classroom, not just as another number in their class.

Professor Thrupp from Waikato University spent 6 years investigating education markets and accountability in schools in Britain.  He talks about how in schools "There becomes a national standards economy - a way of thinking where they narrow their teaching focus to just reaching those targets." (NZ Herald, League Tables for 'Sport', not schools).  What's to stop this from happening? Nothing at the moment.  Schools are scared of what National Standards mean for them.  Not scared of sharing the data, but scared about what people's perception of this data means for their schools and their students.

What happens next? The data is collected and you have your below, at and above standards.  What are you going to do next to help me support my students who are deemed below this standard line?

The Government has followed the National Standards path with determination
bullying and threats to close schools amongst some of them.  How can you trust a Government who uses this as the way to get their education system to comply to something they so honestly see as disruptive and useless.
For example, the 208+ principals who signed the 'Open Letter to the Minister' this month declaring their mistrust in National Standards. How can you argue against such a strong group of educational leaders? I'm proud to say that my principal is represented amongst that list.  I don't believe there are any benefits to our students from what is happening with the Government's tactics.

I choose to teach.  I love teaching and I wouldn't be doing anything else. My day does not consist solely of Writing, Reading and Maths.  I know these areas are important but what about innovation, creativity and problem solving?  What about the other subjects I teach each week... term... year? Maori, Art, Written Language, Oral Language, Art, Drama, Dance, Spelling, Grammar, PE, Health, Life Skills... I could continue.  Where is the acknowledgement in the array of skills that our teachers and schools are offering and fostering in our kiwi kids?

But all you want to know about... are the numbers.

Image used under Creative Commons from: e y e / s e e

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Conversations and Collaborations

A fairly common word now in New Zealand education, but one that doesn't lose any of it's stamina as the years go by.  This year saw my 5th year of attending Educamps and I love them.  It's such an awesome chance to catch up with amazing tweeps, bloggers and educators from around New Zealand.

Christchurch - Burnside High
This year I travelled to Christchurch for their first educamp run by Pauline and Anne.  It was great to be surrounded by a new set of faces and people.  They are such strong educators who have been pushing through some pretty hard times.  It was hard to be in the centre of town and see the devastation that has occurred in Christchurch.  Being there was so much more than seeing it on the nightly news.  But the educators that were in the room were passionate, keen and had a great sense of humour.  The conversations that went on ranged from BYOD, Daily 5 through to iPads and mobile technologies.  It was great to finally get to meet awesome edutweeps like Judykmck who has helped me a lot with Daily 5/CAFE understanding and ideas through her sharing.  Paulinehendog and many others!  I had the chance to take along a educamp newbie from Christchurch Aimee and converted her to the educamp way.  She's already looked to sign up her husband and a few others for padcamp in a few weeks time!  Find out more and see some more pics about eduCamp Chch here in a post from Anne.

Auckland - Stonefields School
I arrived a bit late and educamp was in full swing.  A packed room, in fact so packed that the participants were listening from the outside of the room.  It started with a full on smackdown with a list of people to share that got bigger as people were standing up to present.  From here we broke off into each of the different areas.  It was nice to have a chance to have a look around Stonefields and see a new school.  Some nice spaces and areas and a fabulous play area for the kids.  We had a great bounce on the bouncey floor in the playground at the end of the day (who said they were made for kids!)

There was another huge array of conversations of offer in Auckland.  BYOD, iPads, Daily 5, Minecraft... just to name a small array of topics.  For more information check out the shared Google Doc that gets created at each eduCamp to help capture the day.

I had the chance to be involved in another great round of discussion about Daily 5 and CAFE with a bunch of teachers who are already using it and those that are keen to use it.  It was great to talk to some other teachers who had been implementing it in their class and look at how they adapt and change elements to work for them.  This year Daily 5 has unfolded into different parts in my class and the CAFE element has as well.  I've been able to pick the best of the best from last year and am using it to suit the students I have in front of me.  One of the great things I love about the management and set up of Daily 5.

The day was another great chance to network and catch up with another round of fabulous bloggers and edutweeps.  I had a chance to meet some new ones too and form some new twitter connections.  One of the best things about this day is the people.  There is something powerful about being in a room full of passionate and keen educators and being a part of those conversations.  So, if you are interested... or just curious... check out the educamp wiki to see when the next one near you is happening!

Long live Educamps!

Just a couple of the reasons I go to eduCamp - amazing educators!

Friday, July 20, 2012

EduCamp Akl - 21st July

Tomorrow - or today - depending when you are reading this is EduCamp Auckland 2012.  If it is Saturday the 21st July and you are reading this... it is not too late!

This is the 5th year of EduCamp Auckland and having attended from the start I can honestly say that every year exceeds the year before.  More people attend, meaning more conversations and connections are created.  Whether you can come for the whole day or just an hour... I promise you will meet some like minded people and learn something fantastic!

Head down to Stonefields School in Mt Wellington to join in with EduCamp.  It's a unique and vibrant unconference - where nothing is set in timetables and the conference is connected and created by the participants on the day.  It's a tremendous day of conversations, connections and learning.

So - come meet and make connections with some like minded, passionate and inspiring people.

Stonefields School
10am - 3pm

To find out more information click here for the EduCamp Wikispace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Independent Planner Reflection

We have a range of learning spaces in our class which provide the students with a chance to decide where they learn. Tall tables to keep an eye on the class, bean bags to slouch in, individual tables/spaces to work solo through to group tables that allow small to larger groups to work and learn together.  It's been great to have the opportunity to watch students learn about what best works for them. Some subjects students prefer the hustle and bustle of group learning spaces and then other subjects they prefer to work on their own.  If students know they have a lot of work to complete they often move themselves to the right space for them.  It's been a great learning curve for myself and students.

Over the last term and a bit I have been working with my class of Year 5/6 students to plan their learning at the beginning of the day.  Thus giving them a chance to decide when in the day their best learning happens.

A natural progression for the learners was to move into independent timetables.  Though these are still a transition point.  Everyday we discover a new way of doing these or small changes that help make this work.  At the moment we plan on paper - day by day for the week to allow for changes each day.  We have learnt to be increasingly flexible and work with what each day throws at us!

A few students plan on their iPod touch using the calendar feature and this works well for them.  The planning at the start of the day allows the students to locate other students they would like to work with and to decide when their best learning happens and how.  For some, this means getting the task they like the most completed first while for others it allows them to plan in more time for a task they know takes them a bit longer than what I would be able to allow them in a more structured setting.

Students work on a 'Must Do' and 'Can Do' system - where Must Do tasks are listed for their group - Maths, Reading and sometimes Writing.  The 'Must Do' tasks MUST be completed by the end of the day and the 'Can Do' tasks allow for early finishers, other learning focuses or tasks that need to be completed.  This means that at one time in the class students could be working on Xtramath, Brain Box sheets, reading to self, writing, completing reading tasks, filming, working with the teacher or any other variety of learning tasks.

At the start of the day the workshops are listed on the class planner.  At the moment workshops are offered by groups moving soon in to needs as well.  Each morning the student looks at the class planner to see what is on and when during the day will be independent planning time.  They also need to check here to see when their teaching workshop is.  They then check their group 'Must Do's' and 'Can Do's' and plan in their activities from here.

For some the planning of their learning came easily - it worked well for them.  For other students they have required lots of checking in, reflection and conversations to help guide them on their way.  It has required a lot of time and discussion as a class about what behaviours and attitudes we need to show and have to make it work in a respectful way for each other.  It's a huge ask - but they are doing it and on asking my students what they would prefer.... hands down, independent planners are their choice.

One of the hardest things with the planners were students perception of time and time it would take to complete a task.  Many would plan in unrealistic time frames - either too small or too big to complete tasks.  This has been one of the hardest elements to develop in planning.  We are moving towards more of a 'To Do List' type planning.  Where the students list what they need to do and then add it to their planner when they have completed it.  Knowing what they need to do and their timeframe could be a better way to plan the day for them.  As adults this is generally the way we would go around planning our own learning - so it could be a more natural way of working through this.  Especially for those students that find the time management harder to keep?

This has required a lot of big picture thinking combined with a lot of finer detail thinking and planning. The students enjoy it and it's great seeing learning conversations happen in the morning where students plan to meet up and complete tasks together - knowing that they work well in pairs or groups. There is still a long way to go but the changes and ideas that have formed from this have been great. I've been exceptionally lucky to share an office and a learning space with a very passionate teacher who is on a similar journey of independent learning with her students.  We have had some amazing conversations about the challenges and the successes of this style of classroom.  Without these conversations and a great thinker to learn alongside the process would have been more challenging. So, I'm very thankful for that opportunity.

Below I have attached links to free downloads for our planners that the students use.  These have been refined and developed as we have gone along.  They refinement and changes have come from the students.  Some like the space to plan while other find knowing 20 minute blocks more manageable to plan within.

20 Minute Planner

Open Spaces Planner

Ten minutes before lunch we get together and reflect on our learning - plan in for the next day any learning that we haven't completed.  The students can also plan with other students if they know they need some help or to work on something together.

We have a long way to go - but I'm proud of how far the students have come.  I'm really happy with the journey we've made

Monday, April 30, 2012

Three Ring

There are a number of blogs that I subscribe to that have a focus on iPad use in the classroom.  I'm really interested at looking at in depth ways that iPads/iPods can be used to support the classroom curriculum in developing, supporting and sharing learning processes.  I just have to look at myself and how quickly I will google, translate, photograph or record classroom processes each day since I've gotten an iPhone.

Today when looking through my RSS feed I came across a really interesting and timely post (for me) from Apps in Education around Student ePortfolio options for the iPad.  Several of these e.g. Evernote and Coolibah I already have for a range of uses, but one that struck me for its simple but powerful set up was 'Three Rings' - a free app.

Basically, all you need to do is to set up an account with Three Rings.  From here you can add your students' names quickly via typing them or by adding them through an xls spreadsheet.  I went through this process on the laptop via the Three Ring website, as it was much easier to copy and paste my students across!  Next, you can set up separate classes and subject tags to make it more specific and accessible to Primary and Secondary teachers.  Once you have completed the easy 3 steps of setting these up you are ready to go!

Once you download the app and login you are presented with a simple screen that allows you to choose tags, students and classes before you add a piece of work to your stream.  Once you have selected these options you can choose to take a picture, video, voice recording or select something from your photo roll.  If you are operating from the website you are able to also upload files such as PDFs into your stream.  I'm also hoping that this will include movies etc that students have created in other apps e.g. Sock Puppets or music from Garageband etc.  Once you've finished photographing or recording you click the 'use!' button and it uploads to your account. 

In App - easily tag a student then choose the content to add

The app/website allows you to record a piece of learning, tag it to an individual student, class or subject then be able to view the process via the three ring website once you have logged in.  You are able to click on a student's name or subject and it will give you an individual page just for that student's work.  It works similar to a blog where the latest post is positioned at the top of the page.

The Three Ring website stream

Students can also add a note next to the item they are uploading to talk about why they have selected it, the process they went through etc

The biggest thing that challenges me at the moment about it is that it seems to be very teacher driven as the teacher owns and operates the account.  I'm going to give it a trial with my students and see what they think of it.  I can see potential in the app/website.  
What I think I will do is leave our class iPod set up with the account details and teach a few tomorrow how they can share their best work and the work that they want to share.  I'm sure from that few they will quickly teach each other how to add their work and view it.  It also seems like it would be quite easy to have a class wide password that would allow the students to access and add work via the class laptops/website.

On further reading it seems like there is a good group of educators behind the app looking at making strong improvements to the app.  They seem to be listening to feedback that has been presented to them so far - which is always great from developers.  They liken their app to a digital filing cabinet which will allow for conversation between students, teachers and parents.  Can definitely see the potential for this through it's ease of use.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Top 5 iPhone Travel Apps

It's been a fair while since posting here!

Over the last 5 weeks I've taken this small kiwi girl to the big wide world as I travelled around Europe.  I have had the most amazing adventures and feel like through all my experiences I've brought a lot to my life as well as into my classroom.

I downloaded a lot... many... heaps... of apps before I went away and there were a good range of them that were quickly deleted!  This post is a quick wrap up of the travel apps that I found to be the most beneficial and worthwhile.

Here are my top 5 (+1) iPhone travel app picks:

Tripit - Free -

This handy little app was suggested to me by a well travelled friend.  Boy was it worth it's weight in gold! Tripit is simple in what it does and it does it well.
Once you create an account with Tripit and link it to your email it scans through and locates any trip information emails and automatically adds it to your itinerary for that trip.  So you don't need to enter in details and bits of information for your trip - it does it for you!  This was super handy with a trip that had around 11 flights within it! A few minutes after the confirmation email was sent through to my email I would receive an email from tripit letting me know it had been added to my itinerary.  I could flick open the app on my iPhone and there in my 'Europe Trip' would be the new flight added.  There was one flight that Tripit didn't pick up - this was extremely easy to add in my myself from within the app (it can also be done on the website).  The best thing about this is that via the app or website I had access to all my travel scedule, numbers, locations and more!  You can also pay for the full version which includes many features such as a flight checker - that checks to see if your flight is on time or delayed.  If you're a frequent flyer it would be a handy feature!

TripColor - Free

Tripcolor was by far my most used app for the entire trip.  It's such an easy to use and effective app that allowed me to be able to share my trip with friends and family via online photo albums.
Once you set up your account you create a new trip - from here you can add photos to your trip, date/timestamp and information/notes about the photo.  The best feature of TripColor was the fact that it used the location information to keep a map of where each photo had been taken.  For example, on my trip to Berlin, I could see all the locations in Berlin I had taken photos.  When viewing it online via the trip photo map I could roll over on the location dot and it would show the photo that was taken in that location! Fantastic!  Check out the TripColor Demo albums here - you need to click on the individual trips to view the map and images.  I will continue to use this even though I'm home - it's a great way to record small trips as well as large ones!

Instagram - Free

If you're a photo freak you'll know about instagram.  It's kinda hard not to after their 1 billion dollar sale to Facebook.  Anyway - Instagram is a photo sharing app that is a must have if you love to take photos.  Create a network of friends and new friends to share your photos with!  You can add hashtags (#) to your posts to link them to certain areas, places and countries along your travels.  It's a great way to link in and find some great places to visit while you are there too!

Guidepal Apps - Free

Guidepal offer apps for a huge range of cities!  The app provides you with a guidebook to the area you are visiting.  I found their range of apps to be one of the easiest to navigate.  Once open it gives you a chance to explore in areas such as history and information about the city, attractions, nightlife, food and more.  In each section it's clearly laid out and gives a range of information that is very worthwhile reading.  You can also have a look on the map to see what's close to you.  Augmented Reality is built in to the app - once you open the 'Nearby' section it will show you the name, distance and direction to local attractions and more.  A great range of features!

Timeout - Free -

Timeout offers a range of guidebook apps for cities around Europe.  This was my other 'go to' guidebook that I located a range of interesting attractions and points of interest in the cities I visited.  Timeout is a magazine that is published for purchase around London.  It lists the what's what and main events that are great to attend at that time.  It's seasonal and up to date which I really liked.  The app had a great range of suggestions and led me to a pretty amazing Flamenco dancing show while I was in Barcelona! Worth having a look through when you're new to a city to get a range of ideas and information.

Happycow - $3

Being vegan and travelling to different countries with a range of languages can be a bit daunting! Not with this app! Happycow is a website that lists vegetarian, vegan and health stores in your area.  The app does exactly this but with the added bonus of using your gps information to tell you how close or far away cafes and restaurants are from you.  This was a great app to locate yummy restaurants through the review feature, where previous customers can leave a review and star rating.

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