Saturday, November 11, 2006

Skypeing with Oz Teachers

Chris Betcher arranged for a Skypecast to be conducted at 10.00am Australian time for members of Ozteachers. Ozteachers is a mailing list that I understand from the comments of one of the members, Marg Lloyld is one of the oldest educational mailing lists in the world for teachers. Even if it isn't it's certainly one of the most active and one that I rely on very much for great ideas and friendly and helpful support for all manners of issues, problems and suggestions related to teaching. I don't believe that this is a list for teachers who are IT specialists. In fact there seem to be many in the group who are dabbling around the edges with eLearning and ICT. But that's great because most of the time the questions and discussions aren't too 'techie' and are often about great ideas that someone has come across or a problem that someone has. And there always seems to be somebody out there who has a suggestion or answer.
Anyway to get back to the Skypecast, at one stage I think there may have been about 70 online. Chris did a brilliant job managing all the chatting and comments and while there were a few technical hitches mainly to do with the number of people online and sometimes the occasional intruder, it worked really well.
A few of the highlights for me were
Hearing the voices and seeing pics of so many of the people who I read about online.
The discussion about how we might use Skype in the classroom was really valuable and one that I know that we will explore some more. I seemed that there is an opportunity for someone to try to gather a list of those teachers who are using skype to see if we could link up.
We also discussed some ideas for using copyright free music and sounds as well as reference to the K-12 conference that John Pearce presented at and many people listened to. We were reminded that the presentations including John's are still available to listen to.
After the skypecast I stayed online for a little while and chatted to Michael Cridland, a teacher in Brisbane who is also teaching Year 7&8 students. He is also 'playing' with blogs and wikis with his students and we had a good discussion about using wikis as a digital portfolio. Great to talk over some ideas and get someone else's opinion.
Hope we can do it all again.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Beauty of Flexibility and the wonder of technology

I have a routine at the beginning of each IT lesson to always have my laptop connected to the interactive whiteboard, data projector and internet whether I plan to use them or not. There have been many instances when we have been discussing something as a class where we have wondered about an issue or an idea and then quickly googled it or gone to Visual Thesaurus Googlemaps or Wikipedia to check something out immediately.
The other day we were just about to start our class when the students noticed the Skype icon pop up as one of my Skype friends logged in and naturally being curious they asked what it was.
Well I couldn't resist, so out the door went the lesson plan and in came a quick lesson on Skype. A minute or so later we were Skypeing with Chris Betcher and his daughter over in Canada. Chris had his webcam on so that added another excitement for the kids as they could see as well as hear Chris and Kate. It was fantastic and we had other teachers come into the room to see what was going on.
Chris has blogged about this as well on his blog. The wonderful thing as Chris said was that it took no time and was a really powerful opportunity to make links across the world. What I saw was total engagement, every student was totally engrossed. Many went home and checked out Skype for themselves. But I think the best thing was the chance to talk to Chris and Kate about their experiences in Canada and the opportunity for us to spontaneously (if only virtually) spread our wings into the big wide world. It's certainly something we will do again. In fact we are already planning another skype opportunity with some students in Phoenix, Arizona.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thinking about where to next with IT

This year has been my first year of teaching a Year 7 and a Year 8 class for Information Technology. As a primary trained teacher who hasn't been fulltime in the classroom for the last 5 years it was exciting yet challenging at the same time. Particularly as I had to rethink my ideas about assessment, class structure, class management etc.
For example, as primary teacher I am used to having extended blocks of time where as a class we could go off on a tangent or run with an idea that the students have come up with, or explore something deeply and make up for lost time later. The absolutely most frustrating thing I found about teaching secondary students was the time limit. 48 minutes periods in an IT class is a ridiculously short amount of time to ensure that we had the time to talk and think and learn before getting to the computers. And of course the kids always wanted to get to the computers straight away.
It also meant that the end of lessons were often chaotic with shouts of SAVE your work as they were rushing out the door to the next class. This was instead of the lovely "okay everyone lets come together and think and talk about what we have learnt today" that I was used to as a primary teacher.
Teaching older students also came with the delightful "why do we have to do this" "this is boring" responses- not that I didn't get that as a primary teacher although I did mainly teach elementary students so it was rarer.
Having said that though I was somewhat surprised sometimes as I really tried hard to provide some (what I thought) were pretty stimulating lessons and activities.
But that's okay, it just challenges me more.
I actually did a survey with the kids last week and asked them things like what did they enjoy the most, what did they least enjoy, was there anything I could have done better, did they understand my instructions, was I approachable when they had difficulties.
On the whole the comments were very positive. But one interesting thing was that almost all kids said they hated blogging and they loved creating their digital portfolios.
So that got me thinking that maybe what I should do is think more about using wikis as a way to have the kids document more of what they are thinking (blogging) but make it more possible to express themselves like they like to do in their digital portfolios.
The Cool Cat teacher blog has some great ideas for ways to use wikis that I think I might try.
I'm thinking that this might be the way to kill two birds with one stone....maybe.

What did they learn?

The final task that the students had to do was to think of three reasons why they think that one person could change the world and three reasons why they think someone couldn't and then to decide for themselves.
Some coped with it well and others found it extremely difficult to think from another point of view and give both sides to an argument. With more time it would have been great to have a socratic discussion but with only one period it's difficult to find the time.

It's something more to think about and something that I would like to try again with another group of students.