Harnessing technology to empower students and individualise learning

Harnessing technology to empower students and individualise learning

We’ve all heard it, right? You can’t effectively teach to the needs of a whole class in one go. Whole class lessons simply don’t work. So the solution is to teach in small groups. Tailor the lesson to suit their needs, keep a close eye on misconceptions, get more feedback from all students… everyone wins, right?

Well, everyone except for that student who didn’t quite get it and now has no access to support because you’re teaching another group. Oh, and that other student who just needs to hear the instructions once more. And of course there’s that other student who is happily completing his task… completely and obliviously wrong, but you’re none the wiser until you mark his work after school because you were working with another group. And that special event this week means that group B missed out on their lesson… Yeah, you might be getting the sense that small group work wasn’t cutting it for me or my students. I had to think differently. I needed a solution that would:

  • provide opportunity to teach to student’s needs
  • allow students to work at their pace – including repeating/reviewing lessons when needed
  • leave me free to support students in class to watch for misconceptions, troubleshoot and keep all learners on task.

Here’s what I’ve come up with… Notability + Google Drive + iPads = Brilliant.

The context for this is in a grade 4 math classroom, although it could be applied to almost any context. It’s worth noting that we are a 1:1 iPad classroom and all students have a Google Apps for Education email account, Notability and Google Drive installed on their iPads.

The workflow is:

  • Create the lesson – at the moment focused on division strategies – using Notability on my iPad. With this I am able to write on the screen and record my voice. Because I am able to create many lessons, I am able to keep them short and specific. I found that when I was working with small groups in class, it was so long between seeing each group that I then tried to teach too much to them in one go.
    • Once my lesson is finished, I am able to import PDF worksheets for immediate consolidation of the new task. Sometimes I’ll add in some worded problem or open ended type problems to extend their thinking and application. This is all within one note in Notability.
  • When I’m ready for students to take the lessons, I will share the note (in notability file format – not PDF – to include the voice recording) to a Google Drive folder that I have also shared with students in that group.
  • Students then open Notability on their iPads and import my notes/lessons. They are able to listen and watch the lesson, then proceed to their independent practice without interruption or need to setup their task.
  • Students work is automatically backed-up to Google Drive where I can view their progress if I didn’t see them in class. I can also import documents to my iPad, comment on them with voice and/or writing and then send it back to the student’s Drive folder. However I find the best form of feedback and check-in is in class. As students finish, I will check their work and move them to the next task – Mathletics tasks or teaching their new learning in Explain Everything.

Organising the lessons

Inside a lesson

Notability note layout

Within a week I’m already seeing huge benefits for  both students and myself:

  • Lessons now effectively become one on one as students plug in their headphones to focus on the lesson without distraction from other students,
  • Students can watch and re-watch the lessons to help them understand,
  • Students are taking on more responsibility for their learning,
  • Students are able to move at the pace that suits them – some are racing through lessons, while others are being more diligent to ensure they understand the lesson,
  • I am free during lessons to:
    • troubleshoot students’ queries
    • identify misconceptions or students who are off track
    • monitor students’ progress and move them to the next step of learning when they’re ready (in fact I’m finding I’m far more aware of students’ work and abilities compared with before)
    • less after school marking as it’s done in class (after school is now spent creating the new lessons)

Skoolbo: Game based learning in elementary school

I recently read a great article, ‘Games for a digital age: K-12 market map and investment analysis‘ that has piqued my interest in the idea of game-based learning and how the evolving world of educational technology can be used to bring a new experience to game-based learning.

In the article, the authors define game-based in a number of ways, but ultimately explain that it must include:

  • voluntary participation
  • a goal (finish line, objective achieved, win/lose, etc)
  • rules to structure the game
  • feedback system(s), which can be in the form of rewards and incentives
  • (in the context of schools) knowledge or educational outcomes

Recently we introduced a trial of a relatively new app to our Senior Kindergarten iPads called Skoolbo. It is also available for download on Android devices, Windows PCs and Macs. It captured my interest because of its game based learning environment which fits in very well with our play-based inquiry learning philosophy. It’s been great! The developer, Shane Hill (former Mathletics developer) has done a great job of incorporating the elements of play based learning.

  • voluntary participation
    • students were accessing Skoolbo from home before the teacher was even able to set them up at school!
    • Access to Skoolbo in class is usually on a voluntary basis during ‘centre time’ where a variety of play-based learning experiences are available to students. They love it and are happy to play!
  • a goal (finish line, objective achieved, win/lose, etc)
    • Within each game, students race to the finish line in their plane or on foot by answering as many questions correctly as they can. The more correct answers, the faster they go. If they get three wrong, they’re out.
    • Another set of goals is provided via the rewards schemes… see below.
  • rules to structure the game
    • The rules are simple… the more correct answers, the faster you go.
    • The more you play, the more you are able to customise aspects such as your plane.
    • 3 incorrect answers and you’re out.
  • feedback system(s), which can be in the form of rewards and incentives
    • Rewards schemes are also cleverly built-in to the game to encourage short, mid and long-term participation. Such rewards include becoming a superhero after meeting a certain objective.
    • Indirect feedback is also provided in the adaptable question base. As students perform well, the questions get harder. As they begin to struggle, the questions get easier. Soon an average is met that challenges students at just the right level.
  • (in the context of schools) knowledge or educational outcomes
    • At this stage, the game hones in on core literacy and math skills. After pre-assessment on the first 4 games, the system cleverly adapts to the child’s ability.

To finish up, check out this little smarty in action!

 

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!

iPads for Documenting Student Learning

With anecdotal evidence playing a key role in our early years classrooms, accurate and details notes and record keeping are vital in reporting learning progression back to parents. Our teachers in senior kindergarten are magnificent at keeping detailed observational and conference notes on the students and their learning but tend to spend many hours in keeping these notes. In an attempt to explore options for efficiency in their record keeping, some of the teachers will be using iPads after the break. Below is a list of some apps that I have recommended the teachers explore as possibilities as well as my initial thoughts on the pros and cons of each. If you know of others, please add your thoughts in the comments below.

APPLE APPS

Pages: allows you to input text, photos and/or video and easily format the page layout. Great to create a narrative of sorts for each of the students throughout the UOI. Photo and text documents are relatively easily transferable and printable. Downsides are mostly around the use of videos – the file becomes very large and not well transferable to other computers.

Keynote: similar features to Pages. The difference is in the organisation where each entry would be a new slide instead of having one continuous narrative. Same downsides as Pages.

NOTE TAKING APPS

Notes Proincludes text, video and photo but can’t be transferred from the iPads.

Evernote: includes text, photos and audio as clips within the document. Again, a nice way to create a narrative of each student throughout the unit. You will need a free account with www.evernote.com which the files are automatically synced to, so you can access them from any computer with internet access. Downsides include: can’t resize the photos, so they are quite large on the page, not as easily printed, app is a little ‘clunky’ to use.

Notability: can include text, photos, audio (as one attachment, rather than short clips throughout the document), and drawing/handwriting. Easy to use. Similar benefits to evernote and Pages. Photos can be resized and placed anywhere on the page. Can be emailed as a PDF with the sound recordings attached separately. Easy to print.

BOOK CREATORS

Creative Book Builder(CBB) & eBook Magic: both apps create an ePub book which can be viewed in iBooks on the iPad, iPhone, etc or on other ebook readers. CBB allows video, image and text but is a little more ‘clunky’ to use. eBook Magic is easier to use but doesn’t allow for video – text and photos only.