Monthly Archives: October 2005

It's been a few days since I last blogged and I've been wanting to get a few ideas that have been buzzing around in my head onto Teaching Generation Z. One issue that keeps coming back to my brain is how hard it is to sell the concept of blogging to fellow staff members. The members of the ActivBoarding blog have seen first hand the potential of using blogging as a reflective tool, a place to link resources for common use, a way of sharing experiences as they happen - our own little learning community. However, ninety per cent of the contributions come from me. I don't mind taking the lead here for my staff but somehow they haven't quite got the bug to get on board. I get a lot of comments like:

"I must get into this blogging soon."

"Where do you find the time?"

(And the reply,''You make the time if it is important to you." doesn't go down too well.)

"I've got too many things on at the moment. I'll make a start when things calm down a bit."

So, how do I get the message across that you need to wrap this all up with what you do to make it really work. It's not an extra on top of everything - well, maybe it is but I reckon the old adage of good things being worth working for are true. Maybe I'm expecting too much. Maybe I've started the wrong way around. Steve, from Teach 42, suggests starting teachers off with Bloglines with pre-chosen blogs in place.

" I’d even recommend setting up a group of great blogs, both educational and non-educational (I love getting Dilbert in Bloglines), and importing them into Bloglines for their teachers. Make it so all they have to do is go there, get their information and leave. Make it as simple as possible for them until they have their feet wet, see the value in it and have a desire to learn more."

Maybe I'm just not ready to be dispensing advice on how to create the time to get involved in blogging. I just know I am embarking on the greatest professional development of 18 years teaching and sometimes feel like I'm arriving well after the party has started. But for the sake of our students, teachers have to get involved in the regular use of new technologies and connect to others to experience the wealth of collective learning opportunities. I know that one can blog on any topic but for educators, this is the ultimate way to get a world perspective. I think I will have to try and lead by example, maintain this blog to the highest standard I am capable of, comment regularly on other blogs' posts of relevance (see Blogmenting - a great post from Alan Levine), continue to service my little Interactive Whiteboard community on their blog (surely someone else will post other than me!) and talk up blogging in the staffroom, at district meetings and everywhere else that I can. As Jo McLeay recently commented:

"I would love to get more Aussie teachers using blogs just so I have more people to learn from and with, and because I think it is an interesting thing to do. It is true that we are on a journey and there are things we need to figure out, but we can figure them out together."

I'm on my quest to properly portray the potential of interactive whiteboards in classrooms and I have the first link of hopefully many for others to peruse and feedback on. It's titled IWBs vs DATA PROJECTORS and comes from the IWBNet website here down under. Now even their points would be up for debate - remember this latest train of thought came from reaction to Will Richardson's description of his Tablet PC program and his comment on my blog:

But it seems like everything you can do on a IWB can be done on a tablet WITH the increased mobility in the classroom.

A Tablet PC would have the heads up on a regular laptop, and can be used for annotation like an IWB. What Will decribed was also student-centric so that feature is shared as well. I would argue that interacting directly with the board is better than the "remote control"ishness of writing on a Tablet and seeing it appear on the wall. Group work where students can take in turns to interact at the board is really important especially in primary school settings where staying desk bound is not the norm. I'm not sure how well a Tablet PC program handles that. Finally, here in Australia a Tablet PC sells for about $4000, while the IWB is around $2500. At my school we got our laptops for around $1200 so it's not about economics. I think Will would concede his pilot program would not be as good with regular laptops - it needs the interactivity of the Tablet. I did say that I loved the sound of his program but I'll continue to dig for more reasons to showcase why IWB's deserve special consideration. More later - I have a presentation to give to my staff tomorrow afternoon to build interest for our next purchase.

My thinking has been challenged. More and more I am realising that I need to have my thoughts in order as the official spokesperson for my school's foray in the world of IWB's. In the last two posts I have reported on a point of view that I had not previously considered.

There's nothing a IWB can do that a networked internet ready computer and a decent data projector can't already do.

My immediate response was instant disagreement. I expressed this in my prior post where I "tried" to set Will from Weblogg-ed straight on the value of an IWB. Will responded with a comment on this blog - see here - providing me with a chance to convince him otherwise. I now realise that I was misguided in the way I tried to demonstrate the value of a IWB. I need to talk about and show the unique learning experiences that an ActivBoard or a SmartBoard can offer that can't be replicated by other technology. No one needs to be told how they can do the same things as a Tablet PC. So, thanks to Will, Wendy and any other technology savvy educator who is still waiting to be shown the real value of an IWB, you're made me re-examine my own viewpoint and determine to present real reasons and clear thoughts about why interactive whiteboards are worthy additions to the 21st century classroom. I'm not ready to do that yet in this blog - I need to think, I need to talk to my colleagues, I need to re-visit the research, I need input from like-minded bloggers. Watch this space.

Well, today I attended a South West Metro District ICT Meeting held @ Blackforest Primary School just off South Road here in Adelaide. I haven't been a regular attendee at these due to my teaching commitments during the regular Friday timeslot. But a renewed commitment to making these meetings a work priority and a visit from Wendy Legge and Russell Phillipson from DECS to inform us about the future directions of our esteemed education system in ICT was an important lure. We all settled in the staffroom of the largest R-7 primary school in SA. The meeting was chaired by Judy Anderson, one of the Learning Band Coordinators from the district office and after round the group introductions, it was down to business.

Can't recall how it unfolded but the topic swung around to interactive whiteboards and the DECS official position (or lack of). Wendy made the comment that she didn't believe IWB's would  make a difference unless practitioners are going to use it well. Hard to disagree but you could argue that could apply to any new piece of technology. There are of plenty of unused computers sitting in classrooms but there's no talk about taking them out for effective re-deployment. Wendy even said (and I'm sure that I'm not misquoting here) but she was still to be convinced that the job of an IWB couldn't be effectively covered by the use of a data projector and a good multimedia computer. I could feel the karma of last night's blog post coming back to get me - I immediately thought of  Will Richardson's Tablet PC program. There's still a lot of convincing to do. I soon had my opportunity. Judy called me out as being from a  school in the midst of an IWB rollout and before I really got my thoughts into gear, started to describe, and justify at the same time, our program. I mean there was a mixture of interest and healthy skepticism from the othe participants but that's good. I do have to be prepared to defend, no justify, my school's decisions and in forums like this, everyone's technological savvy is pretty even. So they want to know - what led you to your choices, what proof do you have of improved learning for students, where do you find the money? So that was my ten minutes in the spotlight. I don't think I was too much of a rabbit.

Anyway, Russell and Wendy then gave us the lowdown on a lot of what's high on the DECS agenda. There was a plug for CEGSA - their quarterly journal  Rampage was acknowledged as a good way to keep abreast of things ICT. I've just joined CEGSA. Well, sent my application form in anyway.  I've never depended on one source for keeping up to date and so I've been loathe to tie myself to an official professional organisation. But as my dabbling in blogs has shown me, there is infinitely more to gain by interacting with others compared to just working things out by myself.

Next stop was the latest on the Learning Federation  (a lot of federal money sunk into this) where they hope to have 4000 learning objects available for free download from mid 2OO7. Russell talked about emailing us details about the BELTS server to access the 1000 objects that are currently housed there.

Objects are searchable via the LMS, using key words or SACSA reference points. Interestingly, the Learning Federation resources are available to non-government schools. I suppose it's because of the federal funding angle.

There was a mention of a learning gateway Scholaris from Microsoft. Didn't really know anything about that but blogging educators might be able to inform me.

Vicki, from Cowandilla PS, expressed some of the frustrations with accessing DECS resources for Mac schools. While my school is very much PC based, I can sympathise with her sentiments.

In '03, all South Australian schools participated in a statewide online ICT skills survey. I recall my staff coming in above the state average which was a bit worrying from the point of view of other schools. I still see a lot of basic skills on site that have scope for heaps of improvement. However the 2006 version will have the capability to generate individual reports, or to identify key areas across the staff profile. I think you can choose to take out site-irrelevant sections as well. Still it is only the first step towards the main goal. Russell talked about the 4 steps to integration of ICT into teaching and learning. (1) Skills, (2) improve performance, (3) making changes and then (4) transforming practices.

The remainder of the meeting involved touching on a variety of issues. They involved:-

- a new tab on our Educonnect system called EdCap which could become part of Performance Management within schools.

- an Alan Reid article in the Independent Weekly focussing on the federal push in education.

- feedback from educators is being sought on draft Statements of Learning and the new E-learning policy.

- the flagging of the NetAlert package on  internet safety.

- a look at the ACT Emerging Technologies policy.

The meeting wound up with one attendee expressing some frustration in knowing what was coming out from DECS. Russell pointed out three websites of importance - E-learning, TSOF and MCEETYA. Actually if these sites all provided a rss feed then anything new comes straight to you. Web 2. 0 will solve the problem.

One of my very favourite weblogs is Weblogg-Ed, more than capably written by the blog-vangelist himself, Will Richardson. I love his style of writing, his topics are always of interest and he has opened my brain to a lot of wonderful possibilities in the area of technology. Now, I'm paying my respects here, in the blogging community I've been around for about five minutes and Will is, as the title suggests, an absolute pioneer in the educational Web 2.O world. But why is that a small throwaway line in one of his more recent posts has been sticking in my craw, a little voice has been saying to me, "That's not quite right. You really have to disagree with that. You should post a reply and set him straight." Yeah, right! If Will ever read this (I don't think this blog would cross his rss radar) he would no doubt clarify his thoughts and I would saying, "Oh, is that what you meant? I'm really, really sorry. My humble apologies." After all, he's the one with over 1700 subscribers in Bloglines and I have 1 (I think it's me - how sad!) But it's still bugging me. Here's my issue - however petty it may seem. Will posted recently on his Tablet PC program at his school and was describing the various successes of his teachers.

I know that we are extremely fortunate to be able to test this model (Tablet PC, wireless Internet access, wireless ceiling mounted LCD projectors), and we're hoping to expand it to most if not all faculty next year should things continue to go well. The creativity that inking allows, the "never have your back to the students" mobility that wireless connectivity allows, the abilty to save and share the work you do on the tablet, and the hand-off-ability of giving it to students to show their work renders a lot of other technologies (i.e Smart Boards) pretty irrelevant. It's been a treat to watch.

One of my roles at my school is the implementation of an interactive whiteboard program. While appreciating the value of the Tablet PC program and wishing we had the dough to fund that across my school, I didn't like the dismissal, if you like, of the possibilities that IWB's offer up to schools. I am excited, as are many of my blogging colleagues (BLOG-EFL, The Open Classroom) to name just a couple, by the fact that so many of the things that Will champions throughout his blog are ideal for the IWB situation. Modelling information literacy, a class rss feed, Google Earth - the list could go on and on. Now there are many factors that differ between an American high school setting and an Aussie primary school setting that could be contextual in that statement. At my school, we don't have access to our computing room a whole lot - one room has to service 18 classes in a week as well as play host to a Problem Based Learning program. The PC's in the general classrooms are only in pairs and we are chock-o-block full of kids for our site with no spare rooms to create pods or other suites of computers. So, the IWB is the way to ensure that eventually, kids at my school have access to relevant technology in their room every day all day. Teachers' skills will have to improve through the use of these things and I just love getting the kids to use it to get involved and engaged. So, no offence, Will - I had to get this off my e-learning chest. Odds are I'm overreacting and someone needs to tell me to get a life!

I've really enjoyed this holiday break - great chance to spend time with the family, get a few odd jobs done around the house and play a few rounds of golf. However, it got to Friday and it was time to re- engage for the term ahead and do some planning ready for Monday. Determined to lead from the front, I spent a stack of time on the computer creating flipcharts in ActivStudio to run on the ActivBoard. Following on from last term, I prepared Daily Mental for my Maths group. I used consumer feedback from the class and posed the problems in a lime green font on a black background. I'm not so sure but if gets all eyes in the right direction, it is irrelevant. Then I launched into what was going to be my masterpiece of flipcharting, right out there on the bleeding edge - an introduction to graphing and interpretation of graphs. The idea was pose the question for the class, "What is a graph?" and hit a link to that would reveal definitions. Well, as anyone used to native Microsoft products knows, if you want to create a hyperlink to an image, you right click and choose Create Hyperlink and then enter (or paste) the URL that the image will link to. But, in ActivStudio, images are manipulatives unless set as a Link Object. So that's something new to get used to until I look though the training manual and find the definitive solution.

Anyway. Got over that hurdle, and got stuck into the flipchart, searching the web, finding images to demonstrate the various types of graphs (bar, pie, line, picture), sticking them into the different pages, typing in text and thinking that I'm doing a great job. However, today, it entered my mind that if I wanted to find these sites again, I couldn't. If one of the kids in my class wanted more information re: the context of a particular graph, I couldn't give even go to the website for more information. And how can my students grasp the importance of citing your sources if I'm treating the internet as some kind of free supermarket? Modelling appropriate ways of accessing online resources (critical information literacy) is something these boards have the potential to do really well. I'll take more care in future.

Just posted to the team blog at ActivBoarding. Thought it needed to be here as it is really from my own unique standpoint!

Well, we started off the term with the promise of our interactive whiteboards and we've ended up with something with more potential and scope then we could have hoped for. We held a very successful Staff Development Day where the team members drove the day (see my post A Highly Productive Day) and we scratched the surface of the possibilities our boards could give us in the classroom. So this post is to touch on some of the milestones throughout this term and put my spin on them. Maybe team members might feel inspired to post a comment, put me straight on a few things or blog their version of events.
Actually getting the boards installed was a major undertaking. I had to liase with the ActivBoard suppliers at Commander, the installation company while considering the aesthetic and technical requirements to make the whole scenario work. Remember, no-one really knew what this would look like. When I described to Steve, our on call technician what I wanted as a working solution for the laptop set-up, he was also using intelligent guesswork as he hadn't seen a school with ActivBoards before and didn't know how the connections to our network should be made. The laptops also had their fun moments especially when I thought they were defective but I just hadn't stumbled onto the correct resolution for the data projectors. Note to any schools going down this path and you want to use notebook/laptops for your computer link to the ActivBoard, don't go for widescreen. Well, the first one was installed into Learning Area 21 and we had our training from Peter Kent and I know my head was buzzing from that session. I think the frustrating part was that most of you guys didn't have a board yet or the ActivStudio software to play around with. Then it turned out that the laptops needed insurance before they could leave the school grounds! Anyway, looking back at my digital notes from that day I recalled the following points:
- configure USB port (this process is actually on the CD-ROMs that came with the board)
- board calibration (once every two or three months)
- ActivStudio toolbar - TRAINING BOOKLET learn the software go through the tutorials to gain a specific level of competency
- stores a history of sequential flipcharts
- ideal viewing is Yellow font on blue background - minimum font size 24.
add ons for the AlB - microphones, multimedia speakers
The USB port isn't an issue that will bother most teachers unless they stick the USB link to the board in a new port. The board calibration is an important thing to remember as I've a couple of callouts where the flipchart window couldn't be closed but on close examination the cursor was about 2/3 cm away from the point of the pen. That's a calibration issue and you just re-calibrate using the appropriate tool from the palette. Now the availability of the tutorial booklets has been a sticking point - we only got two (or three?) and I've had plenty of requests for extra copies. I was assured that a pdf copy would be e-mailed to me last week from Commander so you could print or use it from the file. Personally, the lack of a tutorial/ training manual isn't an issue as I can learn a heap more from playing with the ActivBoard, but I realise not everyone prefers or learns that way. The preferred colour note is interesting because I trialled a few colour combinations with my Maths Group to see what they preferred. They ended up telling me that lime green font on a black background is superb to look at but it could be just that is a cool colour combination that doesn't measure up optically! Also, I bought a pair of multimedia speakers which have been trialled by a few teachers. Annabel was less than impressed when she viewed a German DVD with her class but a "digital native" informed me that the sound was down because the laptops sound settings were set too low. See. we're learning from them all the time.
Anyway by mid-term we had all boards installed and all but Meredith's in the Science Room up and running. Hers turned out to be a connector problem, sorted out eventually by the installers. This was frustrating for her as we were looking forward to our Staff Development Day, she was under pressure to report back to the powers that be on the progress on her Science Grant and she hadn't even conducted a working lesson involving the ActivBoard. Team members, don't forget to support her via her blog New Wave Science - post a comment, give her a link, offer to review some of her research.
One big issue I touched on the training day was the need for us to show the way for our fellow staff members. Some of them are still unaware of how the whole interactive whiteboard thing works (can I come and play with it sometime?), some want to be ready for the next rollout in 2006 and a bit of awareness raising on our part on how big and steep the learning curve won't go astray. They are watching us with interest and we have that responsibility to keep them up to date with realistic, not idealistic, information. We have to think of ways to give them hands on experiences which we, in a lot of ways, didn't get. We are the digital pioneers and I have seen a lot of really great stuff from all of you just in passing or in professional conversations around the school.
One last thing before I finally wind this post up. I think that being accountable and documenting our learning journey is really important as we go. Being time poor, I think this blog is the best way for all of us to have a conversation that is not dependent on all of us being in the same room at the same time. I am really thrilled to see that several of us have started their own blogs and can see value in this two way technology tool. Our colleagues can then read up on our findings, frustrations, check our resources and be part of documentation that is living. Please contribute any little bits you can to ActivBoarding and make it part of your week to either post, read or comment on this blog. My thoughts and ideas will get pretty boring after a while if others don't put in their point of view. As Marg has said in her blog digital immigrant - It certainly was food for thought pointing out that it wasn't much good if we used technology such as the active boards to produce vamped up versions of old curriculum.
Thanks, Marg - couldn't have put it better myself.