email for 8 year olds… really?

This is a question that I often receive when I explain how our Grade 3 students are introduced to email. In fact, at our school we introduce Google Apps for Education (and email) to our grade 3 students. We do this for a number of reasons that I’m not going to go in to in this post. Having said that, one of the key reasons for introducing online tools to our students at such a young age is to have them develop the understandings of safe and responsible online use before they are online themselves and develop poor habits.

This week we (the Grade 3 teachers and I) have begun the process of this task with some of our classes by having students learn about digital citizenship. We began by dedicating a large amount of time for students to explore a range of websites, videos, games and posters that explore digital citizenship. This was followed by ‘homework’ and another 20 minutes in the next lesson with continued exploration. At the beginning of this I made it clear that the kids’ only responsibility was to be a thinker and think about how to be safe and responsible. No notes or questions were needed.

Following this, I introduced the tool of Google Docs by sharing an open document (so that they didn’t need access to their account yet) with the following questions:

  • Form: What does being online mean? What are some examples of being online?
  • Responsibility: How do I be responsible when online? How should I behave?
  • Reflection: How do I know when I should ask an adult for help?

To help prevent ‘getting in the way’ of each other on this document, the girls entered what they could for 10 minutes, followed by the boys for 10 minutes. Together, today’s class came up with four pages of information.

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Following this, we held a discussion to review what we had learned. We used to copy the notes into to find common themes among the answers. During this discussion, it was evident the kids had a solid understanding of responsible and safe online behaviours.

Next up, we will develop an essential agreement/user policy for our email and Google Apps. The kids will also be involved in create digital citizenship posters to display in the lab, classrooms and on our in-house TVs.


Integrating ICT into the classroom

Finding the right blend to support technology integration can be difficult.

Recently I started in my new position of Technology Integration. I’m working with teachers and students from Early Childhood Education to Grade 3 with limited technology and varying teacher attitudes. Starting the year I was nervous, yet enthusiastic. I’ve been very fortunate to be moving into not only a new position for me, but a totally new position for the school. This has meant loads of flexibility and no expectations of how it was ‘done last year’. As a result, I was able to develop a model of integration that I think would work best. In this post I’d like to outline the major (and successful:)) parts of the model that I’ve worked to implement.

Flexible schedule for me and the computer labs:

 One of the most disheartening aspects of technology teaching in schools is seeing the ‘technology time’ scheduled in to class schedules. Imagine your life if you were only allowed to use technology at 1pm on Tuesday for 40 minutes and then again on Friday at 11am for 40 minutes! This isn’t how technology works. We all use technology to serve a purpose and we use the technology when we need that purpose met, so why do we insist on telling students when they should and should not use technology.

Now ideally, we would have enough technology for students to use it when they need it and put it away when they don’t. Unfortunately we don’t have this flexibility, but we have implemented a flexible booking system for both our computer labs and the in-class support from me. Teachers make use of Google Calendar to book in the times when the technology is needed or when the support is needed, giving greater ability to use the technology as it’s needed.

Priority grade levels:

Currently I am working to support 43 teachers and their classes (approx. 800 kids), plus our single subject teachers. To try to equally share this support each week would be impossible and ineffective. Instead, a key element to ensure technology integration is to work with teams to identify the strongest and most demanding units of learning (in terms of new skills and time) where technology fits in best. These grade levels then become a priority for me. I will work with that grade level intensely over a period of a unit of learning to help the teachers and students meet their goals. Throughout the year, each grade level will have at least one ‘priority unit’. As we believe all teachers are technology teachers, the classroom teacher is responsible for integrating technology into other areas of their curriculum as they see fit and are comfortable to do.

Work with what’s in place:

My goal when helping teams plan their units is to work with what they have in place and to then tie in the technology where it fits best. Let’s consider the example of our grade 3 team who had a heavy focus on research skills for their current unit. As our school makes use of Google Apps for Education, we saw this as a great time to introduce the kids to Google Docs as a place where research groups can keep shared notes on their research questions and inquiries.

Being mindful of teachers’ workloads:

Building on the example from above, I was cautious not to overload teachers with more ‘stuff’ they need to teach. With that in mind, I left the planning meeting with the objective of building a technology unit that would coincide with the unit of inquiry already in place. Some of the key elements were:

Central idea: Technology can help us to work together.

Assessment focus: How well do students use Google Docs to take shared notes with peers?

Inquiry areas:

  • How do we use the Internet to research?
  • How do we stay safe and act responsibly when online?
  • How to we use Google Docs to work together?

My job is to then allow teachers to book their time with me to help them work through the process. With the flexible booking (and a little encouragement or reminder here and there), teachers were able to build the technology skills alongside the unit of inquiry so that students were ready to use Google Docs for their note taking at the time that they were ready to begin their group research.

All in all, teachers have been happy with the many aspects that have been built in to allow for more genuine integration of technology in to the classroom learning experiences. How does technology work at your school? What are the upsides and what are the downsides?

7 Successes of Student Blogging

Without a doubt, the buzz word in our class this year has been BLOGS. Seven months into the school year, and the enthusiasm and enjoyment for blogging in our class is as strong, if not stronger, than day one. The kids are motivated to use their blogs for their school work as well as for personal posts.

So what’s so great about them? Well here are seven reasons that I have loved having the kids blog this year. I hope you are inspired to give blogging a go with your students and see similar results. You can check out all of the tasks I have my kids work on on their blogs at my class blog


To build IT skills

There is no doubting that our students are going to need to know how to use and adapt to new technologies. Having students blogging for class and homework has allowed us to learn some of the following skills, beyond the basics of editing and formatting text: embedding video and sound files using YouTube and AudioBoo; embed charts from GoogleDocs, insert photos after using an iPhone to photograph and email them, modify colour and formatting themes, hyperlinking, and the list goes on. Click on the links above to see some examples.

To learn about students’ knowledge

We all have them… those quiet students who hardly make a peep in class. Delightful at times, but I can’t help but feel there’s so much I never get to know about them. Blogs have helped me to gain an insight in to some of these kids’ learning by giving them the time and privacy to share their thoughts in a less confronting way. Take the case of one boy whose reading fluency is lacking, not because he can’t read the words as I thought, but because… well you read what he said by clicking the top image to the right.

Or there’s the girl who gained an incredible understanding of the concept of why biodiversity exists. I didn’t get to learn about this on the field trip because I was too busy telling her other ‘answers’. When she got home and had the time to process and explain her thoughts, only then did I get to hear her understanding.

To track learning over time

Starting the beginning of a unit of learning, it’s always a good idea to see what your students know. Well to start our recent simple machines unit, I had the kids watch a video of a Rube Goldberg machine and explain what was happening and why, and what parts of the machine they knew. Later in the unit I had the kids review their post and update it with their new learning. You can see the task instructions here and one example here: first attempt, second attempt.

To allow for genuine self-reflection

Having kids make reflections of their own reading can be hard when they can’t hear themselves. So, with the assistance of my iPhone and the AudioBoo app I was able to record the kids reading and then have them embed their reading into their blogs. Once this was done, the kids were able to make more accurate judgements on their reading fluency and expression and set goals for improvement. Check it out here.

To share personal achievements

Isn’t it nice when kids have a place to celebrate? Their blogs have become this place. Check out the nice example to the right.

To allow parents to easily see work and give feedback

It’s wonderful when the parents are able to see their kids work as they complete it. It’s more wonderful when the parents are able to leave a comment sharing their pride. Here’s a nice one.




To have a genuine audience

That’s you guys! Please take some time to visit the kids’ blogs who are open and leave them a comment. It will make their day. You can visit all of their blogs here (well the ones that are open at least).

When there’s a way, there’s a will…

The saying goes ‘When there’s a will, there’s a way’. That is, if you have a desire or want then you will find a way to achieve it. Over the last week I have begun to see evidence of the reverse of this – when there’s a WAY, there’s a WILL.

Over the course of our first week back from summer break, I have had great pleasure in watching and feeling the buzz happening around our campus (and from other campuses too) about the introduction of Google Apps for Education. I am particularly excited by this because I presented this group of applications to admin as the WAY to my WILL. I was increasingly frustrated by the limitations of our network and IT user policy. So as an attempt to introduce a school wide acceptable tool for publishing, collaboration, online writing, etc I presented Google Apps.

This is the first year that Google Apps has been introduced to the entire school, and people are jumping on it. They are making sites to share planning documents, calendars for long range plans, shared documents to build up learning experiences for math outcomes, and the students haven’t even started yet. I am looking forward to seeing in what innovative ways teachers will start to use these new tools with their students.

Are people making mistake? Yes! Are they using the wrong terms? Yes! Are they doing things the most efficient way? No! Were they asking for something like this before? No! But the fact is that people are now using this technology in ways that were never even envisioned. Nobody (or very few at least) had the WILL, but now there is a WAY, they do!

The lesson I’ve learned from this? If you feel something can benefit all of those around you, even if there is no demand, no WILL, present the WAY anyway. You never know how well ideas can be taken.

Curriculum Planning: Bringing it together with Google Apps

So I’ve recently been playing around with the tools of Google Apps for Education to test the possibility of creating some form of Curriculum Mapping – or at least curriculum document gathering.

It turns out that, with a little set-up time, it’s actually quite possible to make use of Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites to create a centre to complete backward-by-design planners and long range planners as well as to gather resources and specific lesson ideas. So, I will do my best to explain the simple set-up that I have so far and how I got there.

So my initial goals in undertaking this endeavour were to:

  • Make more consistent use of backward-by-design planners for math, reading and writing units.
  • Develop a more thorough, consistent and coherent long range plan.
  • To bring all curriculum area planners into one place, including PYP planners, math, reading and writing.
  • To allow better collaboration of planning amongst the team.
  • To bring resources together with planning documents.
  • To have one, continuously updated version of planners and resources, rather than a new document every year leading to years of unused files and folders being lost on the abyss of a network drive.

The basis for all of this is around a Google Site specifically for the team’s planning. It a very simple site with most links made from the home page (click the image to the right to see the layout and links). Included in the site are resource pages specific for each curriculum area (eg. math resources, reading resources, etc). These pages are ‘File Cabinet’ pages where documents and other files are simply attached ready for download when needed.

The next most heavily utilised App is Google Docs. I have made use of this for two specific types of planning documents:

  • Spreadsheet Form: a form for each curriculum area has been created to complete new unit plans. This is where the backward-by-design planning comes in to play. The forms have fields such as Central Idea (enduring understanding), Key Questions, Assessments, curriculum outcomes addressed, etc. When a new unit is being planned, the form is filled in by the team and when submitted is entered into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet can be viewed as a list (View menu -> List view) which allows for easy sorting according to date, subject area, unit topic, etc.
  • Doc: A doc is also created for each specific unit (eg. Writing – poetry, Maths – fractions, etc). This Doc will have more specific learning outcomes or objectives, learning experiences, and link/refer to resources that can be websites, books, other docs or files on the resources page in the Site.

Each of these planning documents can then be added to, updated, changed – ultimately improved – each year.

The final part of all of this is use of Google Calendar to create a long range plan. The calendar is used to create events lasting the length of a specific unit (eg. Maths – fractions). This is simply to give the team members a sense of how long the unit should be and what’s up next. One of the good features of this however, is that within the event details you can link to a Google Doc. So, within each event (eg. Maths – fractions) there is the specific unit planner with all of the learning outcomes, activities and resources (as mentioned above). Very handy! Ultimately, I would love it if an event could be created based on the spreadsheet items from above, but at the moment it is a matter of entering it separately.

I hope this is as clear as mud!

I do realise that there is other software out there, such as Rubicon Atlas, but this gives a free alternative to schools who don’t make use of this type of software. With the developments that occur with Google Apps, I can only see the capability of these type of curriculum development ideas enhancing.

Please give this a go and let me know how it goes. I think the more people working to make creative use of the tools offered by Google, the more creative the ideas will become.

Google Docs to present learning

Although, at the time of posting this, the presentation below is still in draft form, I really wanted to share/boast 🙂

The task for these Grade 5 students is to communicate 5 traits of effective leadership by focussing on a leader of their choice. This particular student has chosen Barack Obama as her leader. The method of presentation was also open to the students’ choice – she chose to do a presentation in Google Docs. I love how she has made use of effective images as backgrounds to support her points as well as embedding a Youtube video for this same purpose. The use of quotes – excellent (although not credited to Google Docs). Excuse the typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors (ESOL student), etc. Appreciate that this is a piece of work still being completed… and enjoy.

Click here to view the presentation.

Using Google Forms to Organise Research

I recently began using Google Forms within Google Docs to have my students collect and organise their research notes – and with excellent success.

The particular focus that we had for our research was to find out details about a water issue from somewhere in the world (we teachers had provided a list of websites to choose from at with the purpose of producing a newspaper article about the issue and what is or can be done to help.

Google Form screenshot

After doing some work on newspaper article structure and text features, each of the students set up a form in Google Docs that was specific to the task. The first thing to include on the form was the Website URL that the information came from. – a simple text entry box would do this. Next, knowing that we had to include who, what, when, where, why and how about the issue of research, we used these criteria as ‘questions’. Paragraph text boxes suited this fine. Following the introduction of who, what, when… we needed some further details about specific points of the water issue. Some simple paragraph text boxes called detail 1, detail 2, etc sufficed for this. Some students later renamed these to match the detail topic.

Once a website was found, the kids started taking jot notes using their form. When finished with the site, click submit and the results are entered into a spreadsheet for later access.

Spreadsheet with research notes

The beauty of using forms for research was at least threefold:

  • Tailor Made Research Form: In making your own form, you can change it to suit your every need.
  • Thinking ahead: by having to make the form, it forces the kids to think ahead about what they will be researching for. This definitely helps guide them when browsing through websites to eliminate useless websites and target the useful ones.
  • Organised notes: Each submission of the form adds the detail to a row within a spreadsheet. The result after all research is done – an organised set of jot notes categorised by the criteria you set at the beginning.