ICTLT2012 Round-up

The last two days at ICTLT2012 have provided me with some unique insights in to the Singapore education system as well as current educational trends. The conference has given me a chance to reflect on (and feel good about) the position that I am in currently. I’ve been disheartened by the number of teachers who are still marvelling at the potential of educational technologies.

However, what I have appreciated the most is how each of the terrific presenters here no longer focus their presentations around this or that tool, but around the way that educational systems need to change and around learning. Teachers need to step back and give students more control, we need to allow students to connect, problem solve and evaluate each other more often, we need to provide constant feedback to allow students to grow as they learn, we need to let students learn about what they want to and when they want to, we need to teach learning skills… And all of this can be achieved and enhanced through the use of information and communication technologies. Each presenter has spoken about learning first and how technology fits in to make learning better, not technology and how we can adjust our teaching to work with technology. Nice to see.

Some points that particularly resonated with me include:

  • the future is tablet: no other platform has so rapidly been implemented in to schools like the iPad has over the last few years. It is a device that is still in its infancy and so too are the apps that run on it. There is no doubt that as touch computing and its apps continue to develop, devices that allow for such personalised learning anywhere, anytime will continue to find their way into classrooms and begin to redefine education. However, as Tom Daccord explained, the move to such platforms will not go from textbook to apps only. It is likely that textbooks will be the transitional step towards a redefined learning platform. Tom showed one particular textbook that already exists (the name of which I forget now) that, as you would expect, includes more than just text and pictures to include 3D interactive models, videos, built-in dictionaries, etc. However, the feature that exists already and will begin to redefine how education works is the ability to connect textbooks and comment, collaborate and discuss the learning. Does your current textbook do that? Does your laptop offer that? It’s easy to see this extend into assignment submitting, collaborative problem solving tasks, and connections to others around the world.
  • plan in reverse: Backwards by design is not a new concept for many schools, particularly those focussed around inquiry learning or the International Baccalaureate. It was nice to see Tom Daccord (again) apply this model of planning to the integration of technology. As teachers we need to focus on the objective of the learning. What do we want students to achieve, learn or understand? From this, we then need to decide on the skills necessary to achieve this. Finally we can decide on the best tool (technology or not) to help us help the students achieve the desired outcome. From this we are able to begin to assess the skills and processes students work through to create and share their learning, and not just the final product itself. Students to are able to be more thoughtful in their learning process and decision-making. Let’s move away from the wow factor of technology and towards the learning potential of technology.
  • shared vision:  it is critical for a shared vision to exist within our schools. Immediately, one probably lumps the lack of this shared vision on the leaders of the school. While this is important, one element of this shared vision that is often told about the shared vision rather than asked to help develop it is the student body. As teachers and schools, we need to begin to ask our students what education should be for them and to allow the students to help us to develop the shared vision within the schools. I guarantee that when posed the question, students will demand that they should be able to learn when and where they want and about topics that interest and are relevant to them. So how do we cater for this? Through technology.
  • allow students to participate, not submit: our students operate in a ‘participatory world’. They participate in networks, they create and share ideas through blogs, videos, and more, they comment on others’ creations (whether they know the creator or not)… In essence, they participate in the world around them, often through technology. Yet, our schools often ask them not to participate, but to isolate and submit. We want them to create by themselves, submit their work to the teacher who is the only one to see the work, and then accept the judgment made upon them from their teacher’s one voice. We need to allow our students more options to participate as a learner and advisor, not submit into being a student.
  • we have to think about the world that they grow up in, not the one we grew up in: Now, where do I begin with this? … Larry Johnson, in his final keynote, spoke very articulately about ‘the network’ that surrounds us, helps us, and ultimately is us…. well, at least is the students we teach. The network, while a wonderful ‘new’ advancement in our lives, just is in our students’ lives. It is everywhere, it exists to allow them to learn and connect, essentially it is a part of their lives. They don’t know a life without a network that provides information, media and connections whenever and wherever they demand it. So, we need to stop thinking about a world where the network is optional, as something we can control, filter, switch off, because this is not how it is for our students. An un-networked world is not their world – it is a foreign place that they don’t belong in. As teachers we need to think in this way in order to solve the educational dilemmas that we are seeing around the world. Those of disconnected, disinterested students who see school as a place where they are forced to slow down their learning.

photo credit: flickingerbrad via photopin cc

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Are you teaching half-speak?

‘Half-speak’ is the term that I give to the relatively new ability to type with predictive text in mind. That is, learning to expect and accept predictive words before having to type the whole word. For example, if I want to type the word February I actually only need to type febr before I can then touch the spacebar to accept the full word.

I’ve recently been working in some grade 1 classes where we’ve been using the iPads to publish some stories that they’ve recently written and it was during these classes that I realized the students, although most have used idevices before, were not sure about what to do with the predictive text. From this, a just in time teaching experience occurred and the kids were amazed by how this feature made their typing easier.

As this technology continues to enhance, I can see it learning our personal preferences and writing styles. So much so, that predictive text may move beyond predicting a particular word to finishing sentences for us. Whether predictive text reaches this level or not, I can see users learning to type only half a word before hitting space, hence the term ‘half-speak’.

So, are you helping your students to use technology to their advantage? What other technology features do you think are important to teach out kids?

R.I.P. handwriting…

The age of teaching handwriting is finished!

With the continual development of technology features such as predictive text, autocorrect and speech recognition, along with the rapidly developing field of mobile technology giving us access to these tools whenever we need to ‘write’, it’s safe to say that we no longer need to handwrite. Well, at least not in length. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that students in the younger years of schooling need to learn to form letters as they learn to read them. However, gone are the days of cursive lessons, pen licences and dotted thirds. I believe that it is likely that handwriting will become a type of art form in the same sense that calligraphy is for my generation. 

So what does this mean for teaching and learning? Well, for anyone who has been the victim of a grammatically correct, yet contextually wrong, predictive text, or a ‘sometimes hilarious, sometimes awkward and sometimes downright embarrassing’ autocorrect (see www.damnyouautocorrect.com for examples of any of these), the skills associated with proofreading and editing are going to be (and already are) essential for our students. 

Here are some tips that students should be learning and using to ensure they are able to communicate clearly and accurately whenever ‘writing’ using modern technology: 

  • learn to touch type – or at least learn to efficiently track what you are writing as you write it so that you can check the autocorrects and predictions that your computer is making as you go (just as mine has done 4 times in this sentence).
  • learn NOT to hit send, print, publish etc – give it time, think it through and most importantly read it over to consider your purpose and to check for errors. Then hit send, print, publish, etc.
  • understand your grammar – in order to know whether the autocorrect or prediction is correct, you need to know what is correct.
  • know spelling blends – English is an awful language to work with. It’s full of rules that apply most of the time, but not always. However, if you know what that tricky spelling might be, then chances are auto-correct or spell check with help you out.
  • use your tools – further to the above point, making use of dictionary or ‘look up’ tools built in to many browsers, word processors and some operating systems will allow you to check the meaning to ensure the word you have is correct.
  • READ IT OVER! – did I say this already? Yes, but it’s just so important that it needs to be said again.
Spending the time on teaching these skills and giving your students the chance to practice them, rather than on handwriting, will be time far better spent for both you and the students. 

Mixing digital media with traditional art to communicate a message

To conclude their recent How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry (UOI), our grade 3 students were asked to create a piece of artwork. In that artwork they were expected to be able explain the form and style of artwork they had chosen as well as to express an idea, feeling, belief, etc through their artwork

Anyone who has been to an art gallery and tried to interpret the artists’ meaning behind their work will know how hard this can be. So, to help the gallery viewers understand each piece of art, the artists (students) made a video reflection of themselves explaining their art form and idea that they were communicating. After uploading the videos from our iPads to YouTube as unlisted videos, we attached a QR code (at www.qrstuff.com) to the video link, printed the code and stuck it alongside each piece of artwork.

Parent and student visitors to the gallery were able to then scan each code with an iPad or smartphone and hear from the artist, without needing the artist to be present. This allowed us to keep the gallery open all week for classes and parents to visit at any time.

 

Making the Most of gmail’s Priority Inbox

Recently I’ve been playing around with the filters and priority inbox in gmail to help keep myself organised.

I’m one of those people who struggles to remember the millions of small tasks, ideas and ‘to dos’ that occur throughout a day. I’ve tried many ways of managing various ‘to do’ lists such as ‘tasks’ in gmail, ‘reminders’ on my iPhone and iPad, and even setting up a checklist in Numbers on my iPad. Oh, and then there’s the sticky notes upon sticky notes on my desk. Unfortunately the problem is I never remember to check my ‘to do’ list.

For work, I always have my inbox open and so I started to think about how I could use this to remember to do things, without cluttering up my regular inbox. This is where the use of Priority Inbox combined with a filter work well in gmail.

setting up your filter in gmail

Setting up a filter in gmail

Firstly, I set up a filter to filter emails from myself and with the subject ‘to do’. To do this, click on the small down arrow in the search box at the top of the screen, fill in the relevant details, then select ‘Create filter with this search’.

Next, I need to tell the filter what to do with these emails. I want it to apply a label to the emails, so I have set up a label called To Do List.

The second step of this process is to set up your Priority Inbox so that you have a section that displays only emails with theTo Do tag attached to them. This keeps them separated from the rest of the mail, making it easier to see your To Dos and your other emails. To do this, click on the cog wheel in the top right corner, then Mail Settings. Then click on the Inbox tab. If you don’t have your priority inbox already turned on, you do this in the first section. In the second section you can use the Options links to choose what to display in each part of your Priority Inbox.

Priority Inbox setup

Priority Inbox setup

Now, whenever I need to remind myself to do something, I can send myself an email with To Do in the subject and it will automatically appear at the top of my Inbox, with all of my other mail displaying below.

I have also used this same process to filter out readings, blog posts, articles, etc that I want to follow up on. With these however, I need to apply the label (Readings) manually rather than using the filter.

Thanks to filters and Priority Inbox I am able to stay (a little) more organised all within one system.

Students using iPads to document their learning

Teacher: “What’s one thing you’ve learned from today’s lesson?”

Grade 2 Student: “I learned that iPads can be used for learning and not just for playing games”.

With the addition of 50 iPads to the elementary campus just before the December break, we have been exploring exciting and innovative ways to enhance our learning.

In grade Grade 2, the students have been given the opportunity to use iPads in their classrooms to help them record their learning, ideas and questions about their Unit of Inquiry. Each classroom has 3 iPads permanently stationed within it. Groups of 6 or 7 students are sharing the iPads and making use of a few specific apps to help to record any new learning they have made. The methods of sharing their learning can occur through photos or videos using the built-in camera, an ongoing mindmap using Popplet or by demonstrating their understanding using ScreenChomp.

There are a number of benefits in allowing students to record their thinking and learning in this way. Firstly, a record of learning is kept throughout the unit, which will show the progress of each student from beginning to end. Secondly, the teacher has an opportunity to reach every child in the class at any time of the day. The teacher can then review the documentation from that day after school. This then allows the teacher to identify any misconceptions and prior knowledge that can be used to help plan the next learning experiences. Students are given the opportunity to express their learning via a number of ways including text, speech and illustration. Finally, the motivation for students to think about their learning is enhanced through the opportunity to then share this learning using an iPad.

We are very excited by the possibility that this technology tool will bring to the students. Stay tuned to see how this trial unravels.

An app to do it all…

Sorry to be misleading in my title… I am looking for an app to do it all, I don’t have one.

Some background… I have some keen staff who want to be able to use the portability of the iPad to allow them to document student learning. Unfortunately, documentation of learning isn’t in one clear-cut, easy manner. Ideally we’d like to be able to capture video and photos as well as add text. Now, that’s not so hard. Pages and Keynote work beautifully to do all of that, but the problem then lies in being able to do something with the file at the end of the week, unit, year, etc. especially so that it is compatible with any platform. Trying to email this document will turn the video into a still image in all formats except .pages. However, .pages documents are only compatible on Mac computers with Pages installed. Not so useful when we are currently running a Windows PC platform.

This same situation exists in some slightly older grade levels where the teacher wants to have students keep a track of their learning journey throughout a unit using many forms of media such as video, photo, text and perhaps even sketches. Again, we’d then like to be able to get this off the iPad and into a format that is compatible on any platform.

I need your help… does this app exist?

UPDATE: Via twitter, I have had a few suggestions, one of which I think may have solved the problem…

via @allanahk, Evernote was suggested as you can, as the website says, “Capture anything”. Unfortunately the Evernote app only ‘captures’ text, audio and photos.

via @dragonsinger57, a set of private spaces at Posterous can provide a space for each student and these can be added to via the Posterous iPhone app. This includes text, photos and videos. The space can then be viewed via any web browser. I think this might be the solution… for now. Thanks @dragonsinger57!