Here in South Australia, we've had Learning To Learn, and now I think I'm experiencing Blogging about Blogs. In the blogosphere at the moment, I would be like the new kid at school trying to work out who to be friends with (via Bloglines and the Blogrolls of those kids who've obviously been out in the yard playing for a fair while). There is still is a fair bit of novelty involved in checking feeds and assessing if each blog author's voice resonates with me. I enjoy clarifying my thoughts via Teaching Generation Z but I spend a lot more time reading other blogs, searching for new blogs to read, downloading podcasts of interest (sometimes I even listen to them) and then reading some more. And maybe it's still because I am still finding out about web 2.0 tools but it seems that every second blog I read is about blogging. Now in my job as an ICT coordinator, my job is to lead the way for my staff and make sure that we don't have students using computers to learn word processing, or learn Powerpoint but using the tools to solve problems or create content documenting their own learning. So, if a blog is a tool for learning and connecting, how come there's so much discussion about the tool? Isn't it a bit like a group of builders discussing their hammers and saws instead of the projects they intend to complete!
One of my favourite tools in my life has to be my Pocket PC. I would highly recommend it to anyone in education as a way of organising and keeping on top of things throughout the school day. In my role as a coordinator here I am not in one location throughout the week so the mobility the PPC affords is excellent. If you already can run Outlook on your PC at home or at work, then using the basic functions of Calendar, Tasks and Contacts is a cinch. There are reportedly better software packages out there but it came pre-installed and it works so why pay for a third party software package unless you can justify it (or claim it on tax). So it has become my diary and task planner but as Tim Shaw says, "Wait, there's more!" The Windows media player is great as I can upload mp3's and podcasts (also in mp3 form) and listen to them at my leisure with a set of ear buds. The one thing I do think is missing but will be addressed with the introduction of Windows Mobile 5.0 is the lack of Powerpoint support. I've downloaded and currently trialling a program called Pocket Slides but whether I will use this feature enough to justify the cost is still up for debate. I viewed a couple of ppt presentations from Will Richardson which was handy but they were limited when the font was too small and unless you are connected to the Web, the links don't function in a offline format. By the way, the ppts from Weblogg-ed were fantastic - would love to have been there in person to hear Will speak. Bit difficult geographically - I wonder, Will, have you ever been to Australia? Blogs focussing on Web 2.0 have really got me thinking about how I can use my PPC in this capacity and I suppose more tools that have offline / online capabilities will become available. Some tools like Skweezer which re-formats webpages for easy reading are great but still involve me doing a lot of the checking and sending to the PPc via Mobile favourites. Less enthused people might not bother but reading web content offline is a fantastic feature. I can be semi-sociable at home (not totally tied to the home PC to read posts) by reading blogs in the comfort of the lounge chair while my wife enjoys the latest episode of Lost or Boston Public (not many shows about teachers!)and create content that can uploaded later. A good blogging tool for PPC is still to be found so I'll keep looking or be open to suggestions. If I can get Inspiration for Pocket PC then I am pretty well set with a highly powerful tool that enables me to do a lot of stuff that frees me from even the weight and size of a notebook. Not that I'd knock back a Tablet PC if someone offered one to me!
Wow, what a great day yesterday. I helped facilitate our ActivBoard team's training day and although my proposed outline of events didn't really last for too long, I think everyone got something out of it. Teachers got to play, really play with their boards and were ready to share some exciting things at the latter stages of the day. We had an good lunch at Liquid Espresso (great steak sandwich with wedges) and we created a team blog! Yes, ActivBoarding is the new place for our new little learning community. I was worried that having a blog might have been a bit geeky for my colleagues but when I framed in terms of documenting our learning, avoiding unnecessary meetings and having easy access to online resources, they were super keen. The teacher in the next room even started her own blog so I will have to encourage her to really push that along as well.
It's always a challenge to plan for and implement new technologies in the school scenario. That's been my role in the purchase of our school's new ActivBoards. Well, I know that interactive whiteboards are hardly a new technology in the scheme of things but they are a relative newcomer on the Aussie primary school scene. There are a few primary schools here in Adelaide who have got SmartBoards throughout their classrooms - Hillcrest and Ingle Farm come to mind but we are the first to purchase and install the alternative, ActivBoards. To me, the two options are a bit like comparing PCs and Macs. Both provide educational benefits but are significantly different, doing various things better than each other. I've detailed the decision making processes in an earlier post.
So, my next move in my role at work is to stay ahead of our dedicated group of ActivBoard teachers so that I can offer both support and direction to them. This Monday, we have a Student-free Day for staff development and the team have chosen to spend it getting more familiar with their new ActivBoard. So it's been my job to concoct a plan of attack and compile a program that will blend some basics with some vision. Here's what I came up with:-
Recess and Lunch breaks to be negotiated along the way. This is a flexible timetable and can be altered along the way. Feedback to me:
Visit the wiki prior at http://www.activ.schtuff.com
I've just revisited one of my favourite blogs Teach 42 where I posted a response to Steve's entry on Would you want a computer without internet? Here it is:
Mate, you are dead right about the web connection being the most critical part for a classroom teacher now. I had to present our new Activboards to the school council tonight and my flipchart presentation was unavailable because our local network was down and I couldn’t get to my folder where I’d stored it. What to do - go online, go to the Promethean resource website and download some samples (enough to show the parents) and some other online bits and pieces to get me through. It worked - without the web, they would have been less than impressed with the school’s new investments but when they could see the internet content coming through on a big screen and how I could interact with it, they were sold. Heads nodding, great job, Graham, no curly questions. Great observation, Steve.
Well, the school has released me from my classroom teaching duties to spend some time sorting out teacher issues/ questions with our ActivBoards. Part of the deal is getting to go along with my bosses, Jo and Mary to this EDC presentation by a teacher, Alison Sutcliffe. The full title is "Visual texts: a journey of discovery by our Year 2 class." This came out of a research grant and Alison if explaining how the use of visual texts is totally different from their use. She talked about how our kids spend more time viewing than reading - she spend some time talking about the Disneyification of their content and how narrow their range is. (Certainly made me think about what my own two boys spend their time watching!)
She talked about using her interactive whiteboard to explore the text "Custard the Dragon" and the role colour can take in a text. Challenge and complexity were the key elements she measured the students' progress achievements in powerful recognition of literacy/elements of visual texts. This was mainly an exploratory activity.
Once she'd addressed the various challenges that some of her "focus" students (research terminology), Alison started describing a unit of work focussing on aspect - she used hero Web pages and a book, "Just Another Ordinary Day" where the students drew pictures to demonstrate their understanding of aspect. Now I know Alison was talking about this in the context of research, but I think my own class could easily benefit from a focus like this to extract more meaning from any texts we examine. Just a footnote about the ICT tools used - Netscape (Composer, I assume) which I used back in 1999 before I got the hang of FrontPage and Safari which is the Mac standard browser. She points that Macs are limited in terms of software for an interactive whiteboard. She also talked about the fact that a SmartBoard is touch sensitive and kids have to adopt a new way of holding the pen. This is not an issue with our ActivBoards (not all interactive boards are created equal!)
Well, I've managed to get on top of the teething problems associated with the school's ActivBoard installation - laptops are now communicating with projectors, USB ports are configured to communicate to the ActivBoard and I'm now confident enough to start exploring the new ways in which I can present lessons to my class. When Peter Kent spoke to our staff, he talked about moving beyond using it as a regular whiteboard. He also stated that he didn't encourage us to use the board as a giant touch based computer screen although that is another way to impart explicit digital ICT skills before moving the class into the computer suite. No, the term I really like the sound of is digital convergence - where the ActivBoard could be the central focus within the classroom for viewing and interacting with a class blog, viewing breaking news items of interest via RSS, annotate and critique pieces of work for within the class, using real stimulus photos from photo sharing websites for active conversations and reflective writing. That students become self motivated towards improving their literacy skills because of the real and public ways their work can be viewed by their peers. Now I don't know how the pieces all fit together - that will be the real focus of the learning journey. My own start in the blogosphere is still in its infancy - I still spend more time reading and scanning other people's blogs than working on my own but having my own class blogging would be a real near future goal to work towards. The ActivBoard would be the perfect venue to model Read/Write technology and use it to track learning. Plus any learning, long term task criteria, assessment could be ''pushed" out to the students' personal blog space. Lessons missed are kept in flipchart files that are posted on the class blog for students to utilise. I think internet access at home is around 80% with my current class so I have to be mindful of the 20% without and allow them priority access to the classroom pc's. But this is a real start in the right direction for using technology as the tool to promote the learning process. It backs my feelings about the appropriate use of ICT in Australian schools. I get worried when I hear fellow coordinators in my cluster talking about the proposed state wide testing of ICT skills and being supportive of the notion. I feel they are missing the whole point. We have some of the most fantastic, interactive, dynamic learning tools ever and open source applications are taking educators into places where you don't want to box yourself or your students into product specific skills. I don't want anyone to learn Powerpoint just so they know how to put a digital slideshow together. Make the whole thing purpose driven and the learner will engage. And to tie this whole post together, it is the very fact then is no blueprint on how to specifically teach using an ActivBoard that makes its use so exciting.