I'm in a mid-year funk

In a curriculum that is so incredible dense with content, how do you find the inspiration to be creative, when you feel the pressure to 'check off boxes'"?

This is a conversation that has plagued my classroom for a few weeks now and one that probably happens around this time every year. Students are tired and disinterested, teachers are exhausted. Report writing time has come to a close, the marking is finished and all of a sudden you are faced with the reality that your terms work has not been nearly as exciting or interesting as you thought it would be at terms beginning.

There is such great expectation on teachers. The Australian National Curriculum tells you what you need to teach. No longer is there the freedom to chase ideas, or to run with a concept that gets you bursting with excitement and with that comes the risk of losing your creativity. Time is precious. In schools everywhere time is of the essence and in a school like ours the interruptions to teaching time are unfathomable. Trying to tick all the boxes, trying to cover all the curriculum requirements while providing for the huge range of student needs within our classrooms leaves teachers at risk of pulling out the same learning activities and lessons as all the years that have come before.

Informal discussions in the mornings over coffee are a common occurrence around my desk. The same stories term in, term out, year in, year out, I’ve lost my mojo, I’m bored, I didn’t get to do any of the exciting things I had wanted to do this term. There just wasn’t enough time.

In 2015 I must have completed about 200 hours of professional development. From courses on critical and creative thinking, attending multiple conferences on digital technology and global collaboration and conferences on student wellbeing. I ended the 2015 school year with a wealth of new knowledge and so many exciting ideas, yet here I am half way through 2016 in a funk. Why? I think because with new ideas come the need for time. Time to wrap your own head around the ideas, the strategies or the technologies.  Time to prepare. Time to implement them with your students, as we all know something “new” needs time to learn.

Then the big question must be “what do we do about it?” How do we find that spark again? The one that spurred us on to become a teacher in the first instance?

I think acknowledging that you’re exhausted is the first step. It is challenging for any teacher to feel enthusiastic when you are running on empty. Talking to your colleagues is a must. Reflect on what you’ve just done, what worked, what didn’t. Throw some ideas around and don’t be afraid of trying something new and when you find that idea that all of sudden gets you talking at a million miles a second… write it down and “Just Do It”! After all, you are the teacher and you know what will work for your students!

 

How do you reinvigorate yourself and your teaching when you find yourself in a funk? Please share your ideas in the blog comments or on our Facebook page. Let’s help each other, be the best versions of ourselves that we can be!

The First Connection... Immanuel and China

 

Embarking on a new project is always a scary thought, jumping in at the deep end is another story all together! A few months ago in the July school holidays we attended the EdTechSA State conference at our school, Immanuel College South Australia. Jolanta and I presented at this conference (as blogged about in 'EdTechSA State Conference - Debug Digital technologies' on July 24th 2015) and were also there to hopefully gather up some more ideas to take back into our classrooms.

The first Keynote speaker for the 2 day conference was Julie Lindsay, founder of Flat Connections. She spoke to the eager crowd about the growing necessity for global education in our schools, and for providing the opportunities for our students to connect and collaborate with people from all over the world. Although everything that was spoken about made perfect sense, we couldn't help but leave feeling completely out of our depth!

We couldn't help but become quite intrigued by the idea of global collaboration after Julies Keynote, and with Julie now working more closely with Immanuel College, we had eagerly (and perhaps a little blindly) signed up to be part of the Flat Connections pilot project "Connect with China", an attempt at bringing students from all over the world closer to their peers in China, a country renound for being somewhat 'locked' behind the Great Firewall of China. The program aims to bring students together to work on a community project, based purely online and completed through a series of synchronous meetings and asynchronous communication using apps such as Edmodo, WeChat and Skype.

Nitin Dani - Director of Green Initiatives

Nitin Dani - Director of Green Initiatives

Fast forward to Friday morning of Week 2 Term 4 and this was the day we jumped into the deep end and made our first global connection! After spending the first two weeks of term getting our students to create 'digital handshakes' to introduce themselves to the students from the rest of the world they would be connecting with and joining them up to the Connect with China Edmodo group, it was time to see if we could make this synchronous connecting idea actually work. We had been given the invitation of a Skype meeting with Nitin Dani, founder of "Green Initiatives" a Not for Profit Organisation whose mission is to:

To minimize or reverse the environmental degradation in China brought about by economic growth, and ensure that economic development and a better standard of living do not come at the cost of the environment.

We were aiming to meet at 9:30am Adelaide time and the hope was that one of our partner schools in Victoria would also join in this meeting. There was lots of backwards of forwards communication between myself, Anne from Victoria and Nitin in China via WeChat as we attempted to share Skype names and determine exactly what time and who would be making the initial contact. Eventually we managed to connect, this was one of the highlights of the morning. WeI had 40 students sitting in a theatre eagerly awaiting this moment. They had had to wait a little longer than expected, and not surprisingly they were getting a little restless. But the moment Nitin's voice came booming through the speakers the reaction of the kids was priceless! Unfortunately on this occasion we couldn't get the video link to work, so Anne decided to be a silent participant just listening in, and Nitin and the Immanuel classes just felt our way through the process a little blindly.

In preparation for our inaugural Skype session with our students, we had undertaken a short session on "netiquette" and the appropriate way to interact. We asked the kids to do some basic research on Nitin's company Green Initiatives, so they had an overview of what his company was, from there each of the students wrote some questions to ask him during the session.

As a teacher every now and then you have one of those moments where your students just blow your mind, the "wow" moment. I think we had a few of those during this session. Some of the questions the students asked where really thought provoking and created some interesting discussion with Nitin. The one that resonates the most was "What can we do in Australia to help you in China look after the environment?", collaborate, build community and continue to make connections to help each other share ideas and resources was Nitin's general answer... what a great answer given that we were having this Skype meeting to start doing exactly that!!

For a first experience we certainly weren't put off this idea of global collaboration, in fact quite the opposite happened, it made us even more excited! We had on a few minor gliches, the video not working was certainly a major one. I think it took away from the experience somewhat as the students couldn't really interact with Nitin, it was more of a group phone call. From reading their reflections that is something they would have liked. We also ran into some bandwidth issues at the end with the audio breaking up in the last 5 minutes of the call, however we were grateful this occured later in the call rather than earlier. 

I felt strange about this because we couldn’t see him but he could see us so it was kind of awkward. Other than that I was really excited because it was the first time I had communicated with someone that was from Australia. Rainer Year 7 Student
 
When we were connected we could only hear each other. We thought it would have been a video call but it wasn’t so that was kind of disappointing. During the call the connection was great and we could hear each other quite clearly. When we were trying to wrap the call up, the connection between us and him was really bad so we decided to stop it there. Otherwise really the only other challenge was that we needed to speak up a bit more but as people got more confident they spoke louder so he could eventually hear what we were saying. Overall there were a few challenges that we encountered but they were easily fixed and weren’t a big problem. Amelia Year 7 Student

Overall the first connection was a great success. It provided our students with the opportunity to connect with someone a world apart fro m where they sat, someone who offered an insight into what life is like living in China, but also what people can do when they have passion and work together. I think having made the first connection all the students are much more excited to start their community projects with the students and to see how great a project such as this can be.

We already have our second Skype meeting setting up for this Friday, a meeting with a recently graduated student in China, who is Australian but has lived overseas for most of his life. Hopefully we can manage video with this call and an even greater amount of student participation. Flat Connections... really not as big and scary as I thought!!

Jess

Reflective Practices

Probably one of the things that teachers really struggle in is guiding or giving time for reflective practices at the end of lessons. We too are guilty of this!
Reflecting on a concept or topic is an essential skill students need to engage in constantly – not just at the end of term and the unit. It needs to be done virtually at the end of every lesson where a new concept has been introduced or learning activity has taken place. This gives the students an opportunity to ‘take a step back’ from all the new information hurled at them and to sort through what it is they have understood and what it is they need to ask help for. Teachers often tell parents that their students don’t ask for help and need to do so more often, but what if the student doesn’t even know what they need help with? What if they are so overwhelmed with new information that they think they get it, but in reality when it comes to applying it new circumstances they just can’t connect it all together.

Making reflection a part of the classroom routine is essential to teach and guide students to be able to stop and think about their learning and take responsibility and leadership in their knowledge construction.

All sounds good in theory. And we all know the benefits of it. So why don’t we do it?
That great big dirty word.

TIME.

By the time you have introduced your lesson, review what you did last lesson, introduced the new concept/topic, given time to students to do a learning task associated with it, you’re already running into the next lesson or lunchtime trying desperately to get them to pack up after the bell. So how to fit it in?

We’ve come up with some simple methods. A reflection does not have to be a huge sit down and write essay responses to 10 questions. With appropriate questioning (get rid of ‘what I liked’ questions for now!) you can get a quick and easy reflection from students that help you to see what concepts have been grasped, and what ones you may need to re-teach to the whole class or perhaps just a small group or individual. The students then begin to get into a routine of being able to identify what new knowledge they’ve learned and what might be sticking points for them. We have made these reflective practice cards up so they may be printed in mass amounts and handed out quickly when needed, or they can be posted somewhere and answers can be made on a digital collaborative platform (like padlet or lino). If printed, we usually get the students to either pass them to us to review, or to stick them on the white board/ classroom twitter board – not to shame, but to facilitate discussions. Students can look at each other’s and maybe even help and explain concepts to those who weren’t sure about something in the lesson – an excellent form of collaboration and forming learning networks in the classroom.

321 RIQ

3 Recalls – Students write down 3 things they recall from the lesson, preferably in order. This is important to see if students have recalled the important and main points of the lesson, or whether they have missed the anything. This also helps students to organize the new information into smaller, more manageable chunks of understanding.

2 Insights – students write down 2 new things they have learned from the lesson, or 2 ‘lightbulb/ aha!’ moments. This may not just be limited specifically to content, but perhaps skills as well (for example, how to reference a website, or how to use advance search techniques). The obvious point here is that you can monitor that the students have understood the new topics correctly and that no one has ‘learned nothing new’.

1 Question – Students write 1 question they have from the lesson. It could be a clarifying question about some new content, or how to do something. This makes students really think about something they would like to learn further about. Don’t take ‘I have no questions’ as an acceptable remark – they can find a question about the concepts in the lesson, even if it wasn’t covered in the lesson – something connecting the new information to prior knowledge or opportunities for further learning.

 

Exit Cards

‘Exit Cards’ are given just before the lesson ends and students need to complete one as an ‘Exit Ticket’ out of the room to recess/lunch/home. These are fairly self-explanatory, but the reason we ask students to write down what they did in the lesson in order is to make sure they actually engaged and understood each topic covered during the lesson and the progression of the topics. Again, we get students to hand these to us or pin them for discussion purposes.

 

 

I Need Help With…

These are the simplest cards I use. Students just write down something they need help with – easy! We hand these out at the beginning of a lesson (mainly maths at this point) and students can add to it during the lesson as we go through the content. The teachers can then view these on their desks at their leisure as they walk the room.

Another way these have been used is in review of a test – if you go through tests afterwards, students can jot down what they still don’t understand the concepts and the teachers can re-teach to either the whole class if there is a pattern of ‘misunderstanding’ or to small groups/ individuals. These can also be used as exit cards.

Maths and Critical and Creative Thinking

Let’s face it, the general sentiments about maths can be somewhat… uninspiring. We hear many complaints about maths and how students find it boring and don’t like it, and we figure that’s because a lot of us teachers don’t feel confident enough (ourselves included!) to teach beyond the textbook, lest we get it wrong and the students are forever ruined in their mathematical knowledge. We personally understand this trepidation and ingrained feeling that the only proper way to teach maths is from the textbook because really, it was written by math genius’s right??

But should this really be the case?

We have begun small, baby steps, in trying to open maths up to some creative and critical thinking. Something to get those problem solving skills and connecter neurons happening. Something to make this fun, and seem worthwhile.

We used to start with the usual ‘What do I know, What don’t I know’ type of questioning at the start of maths units to try to ascertain what the students may be able to recover from mathematical lessons of past, but after a while, this too became slightly mundane.

So we turned to our favourite types of critical and creative thinking templates and questioning. Instead of telling the students what we were going to ‘tackle’ in maths, we gave them an opportunity to explore creatively some connections and prior knowledge through Blooms, Questivities, and Thinkers Keys. These were given to the students as ‘prior – knowledge’ learning tasks and as a way to introduce them to the concepts we would be exploring in maths.

The students were given these tasks as a sheet and they needed to present it in a way that they thought was interesting and informative. Most students stuck to the ‘poster’ presentation method, however we have had a few student starting to delve into prezis, movies and other forms of digital presentations. These were shared with the class and then discussions around the ‘vocab’ we would need for this topic would occur. As students came up with pertinent words, they were given a card to write the words on and add to the ‘Vocab Wall’. This then ensures the students can see and access this language and associated vocab all the time in class.

The result?
Students collaboratively working together to produce some rather thoughtful, engaging, and sometimes hilariously creative ideas! It may seem like a whole heap of fun (which it was!) but with carefully constructed questions and learning tasks, students began to make connections between the concepts and real life. They were able to begin asking those big questions, see the purpose these concepts have in our world and use language that they didn’t know they already had ingrained into their mathematical vocabularies. As a teacher, not only does this practice essential 21st Century skills like collaboration, communication, inquiry and creative and critical thinking, but it gives an insight into the type of language, concepts and ideas the students might have about the topics.

And they’re much more fun to read than a pre-test or list of knowledge points.

Blooms Taxonomy on Decimals and Percentages

Fraction Questivities

Measurement Questivities

Thinker’s Keys on Chance

Please feel free to use these as you see fit and adapt to your classroom, but please cite EduSphere on your documents!

Using See-Think-Wonder and Artful Thinking as a way of teaching Livability

Context

Our students have been learning about Livability and Internal Migration within Australia. We had spoken about and explored the different types of living environments within Australia, namely remote, rural, and urban environments.

The Task

The students were given a picture each that we found on the internet of paintings of these different living environments. We created a ‘proforma’ for them to work on so the learning task could be completed in silence and independently to start with.

We mixed together two different Visible Thinking Routines within the ‘Artful Thinking’ sub-genre – Looking 10 x 2, and see think wonder. There was a small element of the explanation game as well in there when we asked the students to explain why they thought certain things in the think part of the see-think-wonder.

Reflections

The individual nature of the task worked well, as the students were able to focus and think in peace without verbal distractions. I was interested to see what they thought to start with, not just what they could mash together in disjointed conversation. Perhaps steering the students away from just commenting on the artistic qualities of the painting and who painted it to focus more on the concepts arising from the actual landscape and living environment was most challenging. Surprisingly enough, the students were really engaged in this task and some even commented on how much they enjoyed it (and how much their brain hurt afterwards!) In the future we think we would possibly give some question starts to help with the students’ wonder part to guide them in the right direction.

To extend further on this task,  we have also asked students to create wordles (word clouds) on www.wordle.com or www.tagxedo.com from the listed words they came up with. This was a nice way to present the key words associated with their landscape picture. There could be many more extensions that could emanate from this task, including creating their own landscapes, further inquiry into some of their wonder questions, and one of my favourites which the students at the moment are completing, asking them ‘Would you rather live in a remote, rural, or urban environment? Why?’

Using Lino

I love Padlet, I really do, but sometimes you need something just a bit different. I went on a search for something similar to padlet, that would be easy to use and easy to capture as an image (my biggest beef with Padlet is that I can’t print out an image of the board – it cuts off anything that’s beyond the initial page!)

And thus I found Lino. Lino is a virtual pin up board – very similar to Padlet, but in my opinion, a little more user friendly.

Padlet has the side navigation bar you need to work through to find what you want to do to add images or change background – not really rocket science, but can be a little fiddly to start with. Lino is easy to use with ‘sticky notes’ in an easy ‘grab and click’ format, right there on the page, along with easy access to inserting images, videos, and documents.  You can use it from your PC desktop, or on iPad or iPhones.

The students will need to sign up, but I think if we are using it regularly, it’s a good one to keep. You can create groups too, so you can set up group canvases that you can invite the students to.

The only drawbacks are that you still can’t ‘print’ the board as documentation or export it, I’ve got around this by taking screen shots and printing from there. The other drawback is that when you ‘post’ a sticky, it posts in the same spot each time, so if you have multiple students posting, their stickies might post over the top of each other. The students worked it out pretty quickly to move them around, but Padlet has that cool feature where you can get posts to stream or gridlock them to stop this.

I’ve used Lino a few times now as ‘working boards’ for topics and as another way to get kids to share their information. When I asked the students for their feedback on this, they said they liked it and found it easy to use. They said they liked it as much as Padlet, so in the end, I guess it’s up to teacher preference! I think it’s a useful tool to introduce to the students as they can then begin to use it themselves to set up group canvases for project brainstorming, or for personal project planning.

EdTechSA State Conference - Debug Digital Technologies

During the final week of the mid year break, we attended the EdTechSA - Debug Digital Technologies state conference. It was both an opportunity for us to present at our first conference, as well as an opportunity to build our networks with the South Australian education sector.

The Norms of Online Global Collaboration

The opening Keynote speaker Julie Lindsay (http://twitter.com/julielindsay) has led the way in global collaboration in the classroom.  Her keynote address, "Who said global collaboration was hard? Debugging the myth of connecting local to global" gave us much to think about as educators in a technologically advanced school. Were we really globally collaborating? Were we following the "norms of online global collaboration"? Or were we just creating global links but not truly working together. As young educators, truth be told, we felt a little out of our element by the end of Julie's address, perhaps we believed we were much further ahead with how we were connecting our students to the world around them and making practical use of the technology we have available at our fingertips.

However having said this everyone likes a challenge and it gave us the boost we needed to really embrace the concepts and challenges that were discussed throughout the remainder of the conference. Some of the most interesting discussions focused on "what do we think an engaged classroom should look like and sound like?"

What do we think an engaged classroom should look like and sound like? All of these things!

It certainly made for some interesting discussion among the group, with the general consensus being that the 21st Century classroom should no longer be one of rows of tables and silent individual working. But rather a loud, collaborative one, where students are able to move around the space and work where they feel most comfortable. Within the classroom environment a culture of learning should be established, where technology use is seemlessly integrated into lessons, with a purpose, not just as a token effort. There are a number of ways to achieve this, and the most worthwhile part of the EdTechSA conference was having the opportunity to see how others are achieving this.

We were lucky to attend a workshop on Google Apps in Education. Who knew there were SO MANY Google Apps out there. One of the most eye opening experiences for us was discovering just how much more there is to be discovered. As a Microsoft school, we have tended toward programs available online and through the Microsoft Store. Seeing how easily we could also integrate the use of Google Apps into our classrooms left us feeling empowered and excited!

Click through to view our Prezi

Click through to view our Prezi

However easily the most powerful element of the EdTechSA Conference, was the ability for us to present a workshop ourselves. Igniting Inquiry and Imagination - Harnessing the power of technology to engage and prepare Year 7 students for 21st century learning was our opportunity to share our experiences and knowledge in our digital classroom practices. We focused primarily on the way we use Microsoft OneNote to create paperless units of work and how we integrate the use of other online programs to enhance and expand our students knowledge of topics of work. This workshop provided the opportunity to share with others how they too, can easily create an online space where students can access curriculum and learning activity resources where they can collaborate with their peers and store their own work.

We introduced some of our favourite programs such as Plickers, a fabulous tool allowing real time feedback of student knowledge in a fun and easy to set up fashion. Blendspace is another favourite, an online lesson planning tool which when utilsed properly allows students to access a well organised flipped learning experience. Padlet, Popplet and Prezi round out the favourites we discussed in our workshop. You can find links to all these resources and more on our Terrific Technology Page.

Sometimes using a conference to network with other educators can be a daunting experience, however on this particular occasion it proved to be quite valuable. Many a connection was formed and they are already leading us down a path of some very exciting ventures which we hope will continue to provide some exceptional learning experiences for our students and us as their teachers.


Heeey Guys! Welcome to EduSphere

We are sitting here and finding it difficult to serious for our very first blog, but that is us, nothing serious happens without a good laugh! Anyone who knows us, knows that we aren't often short of a few words, however this is proving a challenge!

So maybe lets start by giving you an overview of what EduSphere is about and what we hope to achieve by launching this site. We like to think of ourselves as "cultivators of curiosity and creativity", but what does this actually mean? 

Within the confines of the classroom, people often find themselves getting comfortable, sticking to the same old routines year in, year out and using their well-loved, dog-eared text books as their main reference point. We pride ourselves on trying to be the opposite of this! We find this method of teaching, boring and dated and guarantee that if the teacher finds it boring so will our students! 

Over a number of years we have undertaken a raft of professional development looking at how we can take our students on a journey to become well rounded 21st Century Learners; to become students who are globally minded and skilled in real world thinking and living. Our philosophy of teaching is that learning should be an active process that is student driven with the teacher playing the role of supportive guide. Learning should be inquiry based, where students are encouraged to ask deep and meaningful questions and to seek answers using a variety of sources. We also believe that the use of technology is an integral part of helping our students to discover the world in new and exciting ways, however it is paramount that technology is used as a part of the classroom culture and not just a token addition.

We envisage EduSphere to be a "one stop shop" for ideas and resources that teachers can implement within their classrooms. Everything from technology sites and applications to inspiration for morning devotions, we hope you will (over time) be able to find it here. In its infancy EduSphere will focus on technology and Critical and Creative Thinking resources, as well as ideas for creating the ultimate in "cheap" and engaging classroom learning spaces (we figure we spend more time in our classrooms than our homes so they should be places we love to be a part of)!!

We would love for this space to be a collaborative one and we welcome your comments, suggestions and feedback. Over time we would love to link up with other teaching and learning blogs and websites, so feel free to get in touch!

Thank you for your patience while we continue to get EduSphere up and running!

Cheers

Jess and Jolanta