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New Collaborative Writing Project

Written by David on February 15th, 2013.      0 comments

tomorrow-when-the-war-began smlnorthernlights sml

I have spent the day working at Te Kowhai School in the Waikato and for a large part of the day we were planning the next iteration of my collaborative writing project that I implemented at Waiau Pa School last year.  Working with Rochelle and Sarah the two teacher that will be implementing the plan we blocked out how the student will again attack this project.

Armed with a low tech bit of paper and a retractable pencil I roughed out the plan for Rochelle and Sarah.  The only decision they have to make now is which book they want to base the work on.  Sarah is a big fan of John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series and Rochelle thinks that perhaps we might have more angles with Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights.  I have suggested that Northern Lights could be re-written by the students from the Daemon's perspective.  For the record my planning notes are below. 

I have been approached this week by a large secondary school in South Auckland to assist them with their own version of this project, currently we are the exchange email stage of the programme.  If you would like to be involved with your own collaborative literacy project based on this model, please let me know.  I am really looking forward to making this work between two classes separated by distance and even time zones.


The Tablet - Elearning's Panacea?

Written by David on February 13th, 2013.      0 comments

ipads in classrooms

There is much enthusiatic, almost evangelistic, hype surrounding tablets in classrooms that it can be hard to see the wood from the trees.  In the last week two articles have surfaced asking the question about the validity of tablets in classrooms.  One asks how much are iPads really helping in the classroom  and the other simply states that a worksheet is still a worksheet even if it has been digitised.  One vlogger has even gone to the lengths of advising against purchasing iPads becuase they are a waste of money.

There is a lot in each of these sources that should encourage us to pause and reflect.  I have been working with schools over the last 18 months who have been slowly integrating iPads and other tablets into their classrooms.  And almost uniformly I see the following pattern.  Teachers are initially very excited about this new tool, they rush off and install hundreds of free apps and play.  They marvel, they enthuse, they share.  The hype that surrounds the iPad in particular imbues it with almost mystical powers.  Spoiler alert, - it is not mystical, it is not education's panacea, it is a tool.  And like any tool, used well it far exceeds its promise, used poorly then it grossly under-performs.  And this is where the natural attrition happens.  Many teachers are looking for a silver bullet to solve their elearning integration issues and hope that merely having an iPad with a plethora of carefully chosen education apps arrayed in curriculum folders will provide the solution.  And this is where the comments from Tom Whitby's post come in. Teachers do not get the expected bang from their iPad when they simply digitise their existing practice, a worksheet is still a worksheet.

Where the magic happens is when a teacher adapts their classroom pedagogy to integrate the collaboration, the problem solving, the publishing that the apps can enable. 

When working with staff I encourage them to audit their apps into four categories and then place them into folders marked with the appropriate category:
  1. Enrichment - practice tasks
  2. Publishing - tools that allow them to share learning quickly, often getting stuff off the iPad is the issue
  3. Collaboration - apps that enable students to work together in cyberspace
  4. Problem Solving - speaks for itself
On the face of it enrichment apps can be seen as digitised existing practice and it is tempting to label these as bad or irrelevant.  But once the staff have sorted their apps they have a very visual audit of their apps and the vast majority of them are indeed enrichment. The question I then ask them is "If a child is using a particular app, how do you know what they have done?  What formative assessment information has that activity provided to you?"  Often what is educationally a good app, is also very poor at enabling information to be stored or shared, especially the free ones.  Without this kind of feedback, to the casual observer a child working on an iPad could simply be seen as doing busy work.  Which is why I the encourage teachers to review their apps using the following series of questions:
appquestions sml

Once teachers start to ask these kind of questions about their apps, I then show them how to "layer" apps together to enable them to get the information they want, to enable students to publish their learning quickly and independently.  At the heart of this is good planning.  A teacher needs to know what learning intentions an app or a suite of apps can facilitate and plan accordingly.  What tablets offer in the classroom is immediacy and mobility.  What the teacher needs to bring to this immediacy is creativity, good classroom management and planning backed by a robust assessment strategy.

Computers in education have promised a new dawn for learning for over a generation.  For a long time much of that promise was in the too hard basket for all but a die hard bunch of techie teachers.  With convergence of technologies, interoperability and now mobility, tablets really do offer that new dawn in an easily accessible and intuitively interfaced package.  But and there is a but, there needs to be a shift in teacher pedagogy backed by revised classroom management strategies and excellent planning and assessment strategies to realise this dawn.  Where teachers have made this shift, then the breathless accolades for iPads maybe warranted, but at the heart of that impact is a talented teacher who has seen the potential this tool offers to learning and they have adapted, they have assimilated and are succeeding.

Integrating elearning

Written by David on February 3rd, 2013.      0 comments

 Yesterday I Tweeted out the following:
Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 1
And as you can see it has already been re-tweeted a couple of times.  This got me thinking, this kind of list tweet is very popular 10 tools for this, 10 must have apps etc.  Their popularity demonstrates the voracious appetite that teachers have for such lists.  I think that what people are looking for is the panacea, the silver bullet, the tool that will solve their integration of elearning woes.  My most popular breakout session to date, measured by number of attendees to a single session has been the following breakout:

And to date on Slideshare it has been viewed over 5000 times, so clearly the subject matter hits the appropriate teacher sweetspot.  But as I have been telling the schools I have been giving Teacher only Day workshops at over the last week, they do not need to be the experts, they are time poor.  But teachers want to know all the variables of a resource before they release into the wild of their classroom and I can understand why they would want to.  But I argue that teachers did not become teachers to then become tech support geeks.  They can if they want to, but the vast majority of the teachers I deal with just want to get on with teaching.  Hence the popularity of silver bullet lists as indicated in my tweet and my presentation.

I believe that it is far more important that teachers know what  learning an elearning tool can facilitate, rather than how to use it.  Which is why I have developed my interactive tutorials.  These tutorials can be used by students and be used as a just in time resource for teachers.  I firmly believe that we will get better buy in with elearning when we allow teachers to teach, but teach using a different set of pencils and exercise books and my tutorials facilitate this.  What teachers need to spend more time thinking about is how to integrate their chosen suite of elearning tools into their class programme and how to manage equitable access to computers to facilitate the learning intended in a timely manner.  In addition, teachers need to be shown how to use and re-use student generated work to build individual student capacity which by deliberately planning to use student work, immediately gives the work authenticity and relevance to their students.  It is these practical issues that I cover in my workshops.  These workshops have been designed to work in tandem with the tutorials.  My workshops have been designed to demonstrate to teachers the how of elearning integration and to provide them with a range of practical teaching ideas based around the tools that they eagerly seek lists of via Twitter and elsewhere.  Once teachers see how elearning tools can be 'layered' together to facilitate deeper thinking, this is when the light goes on and the magic happens.  This is when teachers start to get elearning and want more.


A week of inspiring

Written by David on February 1st, 2013.      0 comments


Today was my last ToD (teacher only day) of the current crop.  And my brief for today was as follows: "Be inspirational."  So no pressure then!  As I reflect on what has been a great, if exhausting and intense week.  I realise that I have had the responsibility of making the case for elearning, re-assuring the terrrified, stretching the converted and envigorating the lethargic.  And on the whole I can see that I have done just that.  When a teacher only day is just you, the trick is to pitch it just right, to engage and not alienate all of the audience, no matter what level they are at.

Today I was working with an elite team, a school within a school I called it.  These 12 teachers are spearheading a 1:1 laptop programme in their classrooms.  The day started fabulously with the principal encouraging the staff to "smash" what was established, to be brave, to be innovative.  Then it was my turn to follow that and then inspire them.  We talked about thinking big, I cautioned them against simply digitising their existing pedagogy.  I then spent some time sharing with the team some of the innovative collaborative and problem solving elearning work I have undertaken with different teachers at different schools over the last couple of years.  This really got them going.  It got the going so much that I was asked to extend my session.  They re-wrote the agenda for the day and asked me to continue by demonstrating a range of elearning tools that I use for collaboration and problem solving.

As I said the the teachers that I worked with yesterday, I am really keen on layering tasks, tools and learning opportunities and to both sets of teachers I have shown them practical examples of just that strategy.  Finally, a couple of the teachers asked me how they can find time to learn how to use the tools I had been waxing lyrically about.  At the time I was enthusing on a blend of Blender and the Unity Game Engine.  And that is the key, teachers do not need to be masters of these tools, no more so than they have to monitor and master the state of the pencils in their class. Give the problem to the students to solve, let them own the problem, let them realise that you do not have the answer and that to solve the problem, they have to master it. 

As I head into the weekend and begin to contemplate my week next week and the term ahead, I am excited to be getting back into schools to continue to "inspire" teachers to be innovative with their elearning integration.  2013 should be a great year.  Keep watching this space as I document the projects that I have planned for these classrooms, the workshops and the tutorials I have in mind for 2013.


David has been a specialist in the field of elearning for over 12 years. He has presented on elearning at conferences in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. His consultancy work includes education and business clients. READ MORE


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